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What Is Fentanyl? Understanding This Drug


Though Fentanyl has become much more widely recognized and abused in recent years, there is a still a widespread lack of understanding about what exactly Fentanyl is and how it affects the body. Many people wonder, “What is Fentanyl?”  and “What is Fentanyl used for?” In order to sufficiently answer the question “What’s Fentanyl?”, it is necessary to form a baseline understanding of this drug. From there, it is possible to explore how and why Fentanyl dependency forms, common psychological, physical, and behavioral signs of Fentanyl abuse, and what the Fentanyl detox process is once an individual becomes addicted. Below is an overview of what Fentanyl is, as well as an exploration of how this drug intersects with painkiller addiction.

What is Fentanyl? Understanding This Drug

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is commonly used in the management of pain. Fentanyl is most often prescribed to individuals who have undergone major surgery or who have developed a tolerance to other prescription pain medications. In order to maintain their same level of pain management, their physician will sometimes switch to Fentanyl as it is extremely potent. Potency is one of the main distinguishing characteristics of Fentanyl as it is significantly stronger than other pain medications and illicit drugs.

Fentanyl is fifty times stronger than Heroin and one hundred times more potent than Morphine. Because of its extreme strength, Fentanyl has been classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II narcotic. In order to be classified as such, the Drug Enforcement Administration must determine that the substance is at a high risk for potential abuse and it has a high probability that its use will result in an intense psychological or physical dependency.

In its prescription form, Fentanyl is often known by a variety of different brand names, such as Actiq®, Fentora®, Duragesic®, Lazanda®, or Sublimaze®. However, when purchased illicitly, Fentanyl has garnered a number of different street names, including Apache, China Town, China Girl, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Great Bear, He-Man, Jackpot, King Ivory, Murder 8, and Tango and Cash. When used in a controlled environment under the supervision of a licensed medical professional, the dosage and duration of intake is tightly monitored to prevent the development of an addiction. However, when Fentanyl is procured and taken illegally, it can be extremely dangerous and highly addictive.

How Fentanyl Dependency Forms

If the brain and the body become reliant on a substance and experience withdrawal symptoms when it is no longer present, it is considered a dependency. In the case of Fentanyl, dependency is most often formed when an individual is taking a high dosage or taking Fentanyl for a long period of time. Part of why this addiction so easily develops is the highly addictive nature of Fentanyl and the way in which it interacts in the body.

Fentanyl is an opioid that binds to opioid receptors within the body. Opioid receptors serve a number of different functions, chief among them being the control of the ways in which the body feels and processes various emotions and sensations of pain. When Fentanyl is introduced to the bloodstream, it binds to the opioid receptors and floods them with dopamine. Dopamine counteracts feelings of pain that the opioid receptors may be sending out to the body and replaces them with sensations of pleasure, euphoria, and relaxation.

Part of Fentanyls appeal is its ability to ease pain and instead allow users to feel awash with relaxation and euphoria. As the brain becomes reliant on Fentanyl, it begins to expect that the same dose of Fentanyl will continuously be introduced into the system and will release dopamine. In the absence of Fentanyl, withdrawal symptoms will begin to set in as the body begins to function erratically as it attempts to regain equilibrium.

As the body begins to regulate itself, Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms  will diminish. It is important to keep in mind that the opioid receptors Fentanyl binds to control much more in the body than just pain and emotions. One of the most important functions these opioid receptors have is to control breathing rate.

When a dependency to Fentanyl forms, these baseline functional processes may be affected as the body is unable to control itself in the same manner which it once was. This may cause slowed breathing, unconsciousness, seizure, coma, or even death. Fentanyl dependency can become extremely severe and requires the help of a qualified treatment center that specializes in Fentanyl detox to safely guide the body through withdrawal without the onset of any psychological or physical harm occurring.

Signs of Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl is an extremely potent drug that many individuals have become addicted to inadvertently. Recognizing the substance abuse signs is imperative for family members and loved ones to intervene early and help their loved one get the help they need. Determining which symptoms are due to Fentanyl addiction and which are due to some other cause can be extremely difficult and varies on a case to case basis, but there a number of different signs that point to an individual being in the grips of a Fentanyl addiction.

These signs can be divided into three distinct categories: psychological signs, physical signs, and behavioral signs. Behavioral signs are often the most illuminating as they are likely stark departures from the typical behaviors of the individual. These behaviors can be deemed “drug-seeking” and are directly linked to the need to secure the dose of Fentanyl needed to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms.

Psychological Signs of Fentanyl Abuse:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Delusions
  • Agitation
  • Impulsiveness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Psychosis

Physical Signs of Fentanyl Abuse:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Unusual sleep patterns
  • Tremors
  • Slowed breathing
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Itching

Behavioral Signs of Fentanyl Abuse:

  • Hiding Fentanyl in the home, at work, or in the car: Many people seek to hide their addiction, or the severity of the dependency, from those around them by hiding the Fentanyl they have in various places they are in each day.
  • Borrowing money from friends or family to pay for Fentanyl: In some cases, individuals may ask to borrow money from their loved ones so that they can purchase more Fentanyl.
  • Visiting the doctor specifically to ask for a Fentanyl prescription: If an individual makes a trip to the doctor specifically with the intent of obtaining a prescription for Fentanyl, then it is possible that they have developed a physical dependency on Fentanyl.
  • Attempting to forge prescription for Fentanyl: Some individuals may go to great lengths to attempt to continue to supply their Fentanyl addiction through traditional, legal channels and may even attempt to steal a prescription pad from their doctor in order to forge a prescription for Fentanyl.
  • Stealing money from family or friends to pay for Fentanyl: While some individuals may attempt to borrow money to buy Fentanyl, others may try to steal money from those closest to them in order to get their next dose of Fentanyl.
  • Hiding how much Fentanyl is being taken: Some individuals may admit to taking Fentanyl, particularly if they have a prescription, but may attempt to hide exactly how much Fentanyl they are taking on a day-to-day basis so that those closest to them remain ignorant about their addiction.
  • Doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to get multiple prescriptions for Fentanyl): The practice of doctor shopping can be tenuous and risk exposure of the addiction, but some individuals are driven to try to visit multiple doctors to get prescriptions for Fentanyl when they are in need of their next dose.
  • Stealing someone else’s prescription for Fentanyl: If an individual cannot get their own prescription for Fentanyl, they may attempt to steal a family member or friend’s prescription so that they can get the dose they need to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Displaying signs of cravings when Fentanyl has not been taken for a short period of time: If an individual begins to exhibit signs of cravings or “drug-seeking” behaviors when they have not had a dose of Fentanyl for a short period of time, it is likely that they have become addicted and will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they do not get another dose.
  • Withdrawing from activities that were previously enjoyed: Addiction can affect all aspects of an individual’s life, and in some cases, may drive people to distance themselves from activities, and sometimes relationships, that they previously enjoyed and valued.

The Fentanyl Detox Process

If someone you love may be suffering from an addiction to Fentanyl, it is important that they seek help as soon as possible in order to begin to detox process and embark on the road to recovery. Below are the key steps in the Fentanyl detox process.

Recognizing and Acknowledging the Dependency: Before an individual can begin the detox process, they must first recognize and accept the need for change. If someone is in the grips of denial and does not believe they have a problem that requires outside intervention, then it is unlikely they will successfully complete the detox process. Before any progress can be made, it is necessary to recognize and acknowledge the physical and psychological dependency the individual has developed to Fentanyl and the need to enlist qualified outside help to successfully detox.

Finding the Right Treatment Center: Finding the right treatment center is a vital step in the detox process in order to ensure that the detox is conducted safely. The first step to finding the right treatment center is to decide whether or not local or out of state treatment would be most conducive to a successful recovery. For some, remaining local can allow them to continue working, keep them close to a network of supportive family and friends, and may present a better financial scenario.

However, for some, remaining local compromises their anonymity and keeps them within the same environment their addiction began. For some, out of state treatment can offer a chance to focus solely on recovery within the safety of the treatment center with other patients as a support system. However, for some individuals this separation from their family and friends may cause undue stress that may push them to use, it may not be feasible to leave responsibilities for an extended period of time, or it may not be financially feasible.

Choosing the right geographical region will require the individual to consider their own personality and preferences before making a final determination. Once this has been narrowed down, potential facilities must be researched and a list of top contenders compiled. It is best to visit any treatment centers that are being strongly considered to meet with the staff, ask them questions, and get a feel for the environment. Once the right treatment center facility has been chosen, it is important to work with them to develop a detox strategy and an aftercare plan. When this is done, it is time to begin the process of detox.

The Fentanyl Withdrawal Process: The intensity and duration of the withdrawal process will be largely reliant on the severity of the addiction and the detox strategy that is developed in coordination with the treatment center. The withdrawal process can be uncomfortable and challenging both mentally and physically. The withdrawal process can last anywhere from several days to several weeks, with the most acute symptoms developing several days after the last dose of Fentanyl has been taken.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches or bone pain
  • Cravings or obsession about the substance
  • Memory problems or difficulty focusing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Goosebumps
  • Chills
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Depression

Entering Recovery: Once an individual has completed the detox process and withdrawal symptoms have subsided, they enter recovery. During recovery, it is likely they will continue to receive some level of care from the treatment center, whether it is residential or outpatient treatment. During recovery, individuals are often prompted to participate in a number of different exercises and activities, such as group and individual therapy.

Luminance Recovery is the drug rehab in Orange County that can help you recover from your Fentanyl addiction. With a team of highly trained medical professionals and support staff, we are with you every step of the way: from detox to aftercare. Call us today to learn about our holistic treatment approach.

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