Fentanyl. This word has found its way into our culture, leaping off front-page headlines in our newspapers, as we begin to learn about the sorrow and devastation the drug behind the word is bringing us, as individuals and as a society.
Fentanyl is different: This is the dominant story about this opioid; that we had all better sit up straighter and listen because this is a drug that is wildly addictive and starkly lethal. And the statistics do lend authority to the stories that we are beginning to hear, in our communities and in our media.
The Washington Post recently reported that in Virginia, deaths from overdoses increased by 38% from 2015 to 2016, but that deaths from fentanyl overdoses rose by 175% – and in Maine, 376 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, a 40% increase from 2015, and 80% of these overdoses resulted from opioids like fentanyl.
And these striking local statistics reflect a national trend: The Associated Press reported that, in 2015, more than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, and that overdoses from opioids have risen 73% since 2014.
If we were to look at a trend line showing fentanyl use in America, it would be rising upward with no indication of losing its steam.
What is Fentanyl, the Prescription Drug?
Fentanyl is a prescription drug that is used to control the severe pain that cancer or surgeries cause: It is administered in three different forms, as lozenges, patches and injections, and it is, astoundingly, 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
What is Fentanyl, the Recreational Drug?
According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 82% of the deaths from fentanyl overdoses resulted from the illegal powder form of the drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also reported, in 2015, that most fentanyl-related deaths involved illegally manufactured forms of the drug.
Illegal fentanyl is made in secret laboratories and sold in various forms: It is blotted on paper, ground into a powder, mixed with heroin or manufactured in pill form; hence it can be snorted, injected or simply placed on your tongue.
Its street names are creative, cheerful almost, belying its sinister effects: Apache, China Girl, Friend, Goodfellas, Great Bear, Jackpot and others.
Where is Illegal Fentanyl Coming From?
Breaking Bad introduced mainstream America to the crystal meth lab, where a high school chemistry teacher and his former student cooked up a crystal-clear form of the lethal drug, though if a TV series were to be created around a fentanyl lab, it would be be set in China.
Drug-making entrepreneurs in China have been creating four forms of fentanyl that are legal to sell in their country, and then shipping them to other countries, primarily in North America. CNN reported that the Chinese government began to ban the manufacture of these forms of synthetic fentanyl in March of 2017, though experts await the arrival of new forms of the drugs on American soil.
How Does Fentanyl Affect the Human Brain?
Opioid drugs like morphine, heroin and fentanyl make human beings feel a kind of euphoria and an extraordinary relaxation; it is this release from being, this blissful state, that draws users to opioids.
Opioids attach themselves to receptors in the part of the brain that control pain and emotion, causing dopamine levels to spike and sending the user into a desirable ecstasy.
Sadly, there are other effects of using opioids like fentanyl: Users experience nausea, confusion, and sleep, and over time, tolerance, addiction and respiratory depression, and then an unconscious state that can lead to a coma, and, finally, death.
Why is Fentanyl so Dangerous?
Fentanyl is killing more people than other opioids. Indeed, as this article is being written, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is trying to get a bill passed that would make it easier for border control agents to detect and then confiscate fentanyl, saying that,” Fentanyl has taken far too many lives in our state.” Why?
Fentanyl is Potent
Fentanyl is intensely potent; Stat News published a remarkable photo that shows two glass vials, one filled with a typically fatal dose of fentanyl and the other with a typically fatal dose of heroin: The fentanyl is barely visible. Indeed, medical experts have determined that a person who is unused to taking opiates and tries fentanyl is likely to die.
Harvard Health Publications points out that it is fentanyl’s potency that makes the drug so appealing to its sellers: If you add a tiny bit of fentanyl to heroin, your client gets high and you spend very little money. Also, a heroin user who does not know they are taking fentanyl with their drug of choice is endangered in a new way.
Fentanyl Acts Fast
Overdoses happen fast with fentanyl, within seconds or minutes, leaving little time to get help. Canadian first responders working in British Columbia described users who overdosed as being “blue as Smurfs” – dead before being brought back to life. Indeed, occasional drug users can easily die from taking fentanyl, as a result of its fast-acting potency.
Fentanyl Stops Us From Breathing
Fentanyl races into the blood stream, its potency surging toward the brain and causing euphoria, while simultaneously stopping breathing. The opioid receptors in the human brain are in the area that controls the rate at which we breathe: An injection of a drug as potent as fentanyl can immediately stop us from breathing, killing us.
Fentanyl has power. It has the power to deliver blissful highs and sudden death. It has the power to lure its users back to it, time after time. It is also behind the first decline in the life expectancy of Americans in decades.
But knowledge also has power, as does compassion. At Beachway Therapy Center, we help you understand how much your life matters. We walk with you on the path to freedom from addiction, becoming part of your struggle, so that you come to know that you are not alone after all.