Fentanyl Addiction and Treatment for Fentanyl Withdrawal
As awareness rises about the breadth and depth of the opioid crisis, information about the different types of opioids spreads. Though the problem mainly focuses on heroin, it’s important to note that there are other narcotics that are just as ominous. One of the other drugs is fentanyl. This article will examine what fentanyl is, what the effects of using fentanyl are and some treatment options for fentanyl withdrawal and/or fentanyl addiction.
What is Fentanyl?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. While it is similar to morphine, it is also 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl is primarily a prescription drug, but it can also be made and used illegally. As a prescription drug, fentanyl is typically used to treat patients suffering from severe pain, especially those dealing with severe cancer pain and/or the after-effects of surgery. Sometimes, it is used to treat patients with chronic pain who may have a physical tolerance to other opioids.
When dealing with fentanyl illegally, it's street names include Apache, China Girl, Goodfellas, Jackpot, and Murder 8. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are now the most common drugs involved in deaths caused by drug overdose in the United States. According to facts from drugabuse.gov: in 2017, 59 percent of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl. This is a notable and alarming jump from 2010 when that number was only 14.3 percent.
How Is Fentanyl Used?
In prescription form, fentanyl is administered as a shot, a topical patch that is put on the patient’s skin, or as a cough drop-like lozenge that the patient can suck on.
When being consumed illegally, the type of fentanyl that most often leads to recent overdoses is made in labs. These synthetic forms of fentanyl can be sold illegally as a powder, put in eye drops and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids.
Fentanyl is particularly menacing because even a small dose will result in a significant high, so it is a cheaper and more efficient additive to use on the streets. Some drug dealers mix fentanyl with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. This is dangerous for people using drugs if they don’t realize that fentanyl has been laced in with their main narcotics. A user can unknowingly take a stronger dose of opioids than their bodies can handle and inadvertently overdose.
Fentanyl addictions commonly stem from its potency. If the addiction originates from a prescription, it’s typically because the patient becomes physically dependent, which is where withdrawal symptoms occur if the patient attempts to stop using the drug. It is possible for a person to be dependent on a substance without being addicted, but oftentimes a physical dependence will lead to addiction. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use that is difficult to control. Addicts will continue to use the drug in spite of health problems or disruptive issues at work, school, or home.
Fentanyl: Effects on the Brain
Like other opioids (heroin, morphine), fentanyl binds to the body's opioid receptors, which control pain and emotions. Once the brain adapts to the drug it can be hard to feel pleasure from anything else besides the drug. When patients or users become addicted, drug-seeking/use takes over their life.
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Fentanyl withdrawal can be very severe. The symptoms typically begin a few hours after the drug was last taken. These symptoms include:
- Muscle/bone pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Severe cravings
Fentanyl Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment
As is the case with most opioids, fentanyl withdrawal can be severe and uncomfortable; this is the main reason many people find it so difficult to stop and seek treatment. There are medicines being developed to assist with the withdrawal process and alleviate the symptoms for fentanyl and other opioids. One that has been approved by the FDA is lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine. Other medications used to treat addictions are buprenorphine and methadone, which have been proven to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. In conjunction with medication, extensive addiction therapy or counseling is always recommended; behavioral therapies for addiction to opioids like fentanyl can modify behaviors related to drug use, increase healthy life skills, and encourage patients to continue using their medication. Some examples of behavioral therapy include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps to effectively manage triggers and stress
- Contingency management, a voucher-based system giving patients “points” based on negative drug tests. The points are then used to earn items that encourage healthy living
If you or someone you know is in the midst of a fentanyl addiction and wishes to seek help, don’t hesitate to reach out. Clear Life Recovery is happy to take your phone call and steer your life to a sober, healthy path.