The Other Pandemic: Fentanyl Overdoses in America

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2020 was the year of Covid-19. But creeping alongside it was another pandemic that’s been just as dangerous to the segment of the population that struggles with drug abuse. Overdoses from synthetic fentanyl killed more than 50,000 people in 2019. That number is expected to rise in 2020.

But what is fentanyl, really? And why does it have such a devastating effect on the people who use it? The answers to those questions and more are covered below.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s similar to morphine but about 50 to 100 times more potent. It’s a drug that’s prescribed as a painkiller for people who are dealing with severe pain, often after surgery, and for those who have become physically tolerant to other opioids due to chronic pain.

Synthetic fentanyl is now the leading cause of drug overdoses in the United States. According to the CDC, 59% of all opioid-related deaths were caused by fentanyl in 2017. That number is expected to have grown in the years that have followed.

Fentanyl can be used in a variety of ways. It can be given as a shot, delivered through a patch that’s placed on the skin, and infused into lozenges that are sucked like cough drops. On the streets, fentanyl is commonly sold in its powder form or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids.

How Does Fentanyl Impact the Brain?

Fentanyl affects the brain in ways that are very similar to heroin, morphine, and other opioids. It binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, which lose their sensitivity after successive uses of fentanyl. This creates a dangerous situation in which someone who uses fentanyl regularly needs to consume more and more of the drug every time that they do in order to experience the same effects.

People who take fentanyl report feelings of:

  • Euphoria
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Sedation
  • Breathing problems
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness

Why Are More and More People Overdosing on Fentanyl?

Fentanyl deaths are rising in America for several reasons. One of the main driving factors behind the spike is how cheap it is for illicit manufacturers to produce fentanyl. This has led to a surge in the amount of fentanyl that’s available on the streets in the Western United States.

The drug is cheaper and easier for those who use it to obtain than many other types of opioids. Many people who die from fentanyl overdoses don’t even mean to take the drug. They might have purchased what they thought was Ecstacy, Xanax, or Oxycontin only to find out that what they actually received was either pure fentanyl or a product laced with fentanyl.

This is a serious problem given how much more potent fentanyl is than these other opioids. For example, a person may know that they can take a certain amount of Xanax and be fine. But if that same number of pills had been laced with fentanyl, then the person might overdose without even realizing what they were doing.

Of course, there’s no way to accurately determine what’s in a substance that you purchase on the street. So fentanyl has claimed many victims who didn’t mean to take it at all.

How Are Fentanyl Overdoses Treated?

When someone overdoses on fentanyl, they can be saved with a medication called Naloxone. This rapidly binds to the opioid receptors and blocks the fentanyl that’s been consumed from doing the same.

Naloxone is used to treat all kinds of opioid overdoses. But a person who has consumed fentanyl may need to take multiple doses of it in order to recover, due to the increased potency of the drug.

People who have been given Naloxone are then monitored for the next 2-3 hours. This is critical, as the person needs to be watched to ensure that their breathing does not slow or stop as their body recovers.

What Does Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction Look Like?

The most effective way to treat a fentanyl overdose is to catch it before it happens. That means if you’re struggling with an addiction to fentanyl, it’s vital that you seek out professional help as quickly as you’re able to.

Treatment for fentanyl addiction typically begins with medical detox. It’s important that you have someone watching over you as you detox, given that the withdrawal symptoms and cravings during this early stage of the recovery process can be severe.

Once medical detox is complete, the patient will likely go straight into an inpatient rehab facility. There, they’ll get the opportunity to explore the root causes of their addiction with treatments like therapy and group counseling.

It’s best to continue treatment even after rehab has been completed. As the recovering patient still needs to have professional support in their life as they transition back into a real-world setting.

How to Get Started with Fentanyl Treatment

If you’re interested in getting started with fentanyl treatment or just want to learn more about it, consider contacting the Still Water Wellness Group. We provide personalized treatment options at every stage of the recovery process — from detox to aftercare.

Our physicians are highly trained and utilize a unique combination of traditional techniques and holistic healing methods, such as nutritional work and yoga classes. We’d be happy to tell you more about what we can do for you after you’ve reached out to tell us a bit more about yourself and your needs.

You can take the first step towards a healthier you today by giving us a call at (800) 563-8983. We look forward to helping you work towards a happier, healthier version of yourself.

You can reach us today by calling (800) 563-8983. We hope to hear from you soon.