Fentanyl, one of the substances that have played such a large role in the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States, has quickly become a major public health concern in its own right.
Without a question, the extremely addictive synthetic opioid fentanyl is the primary cause of the United States’ record-breaking levels of drug overdose fatalities in 2020, and it is destroying countless lives every day as another American family loses a loved one to fentanyl addiction.
Fentanyl is being intentionally added to an increasing number of illicit narcotics available from criminal drug traffickers, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit prescriptions, which may be obtained online or on U.S. street corners.
Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid medication that is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl, a Schedule II prescription medicine, generates a euphoric sense of relaxation when administered properly, reducing pain and diminishing the impression of suffering in the patient.
However, it is illegally abused for exactly the same reasons.
Fentanyl comes in several legal forms, and people take it either:
- By injection
- As a lozenge
- As an oral tablet
- As a lollipop, or
- By applying a patch to their skin
Fentanyl is classified in the U.S. as a Schedule II prescription medication. It is used in the treatment of severe pain that other types of medications cannot manage successfully, or after surgery to treat post-op pain.
It is sold in the U.S. under the brand names:
- Duragesic®, and
Fentanyl, on the other hand, is illegally made for the illicit drug market and sold either online or on the street by criminal drug dealers.
Users can consume the drug by ingesting it, smoking it, inhaling the crushed powder, or injecting it. There is no single way that is safer than the others.
Furthermore, like with any illegally created and purchased narcotic, drug consumers have little to no knowledge of the product’s strength or purity.
Fentanyl has been added to practically every other narcotic produced for the criminal drug supply in recent years, including cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and counterfeit prescription medications.
As a result, numerous people have died from opioid overdoses after mistakenly believing their product was fentanyl-free.
Because the potency of these other drugs is unknown, and they are unaware of the inclusion of fentanyl, any illicit drug usage – even a low quantity – can lead to accidental overdose or death.
Fentanyl’s usage as a “cutting agent” for other drugs is because illegal drug groups, such as Mexican drug cartels, rapidly realized how effective it was:
- Easier and cheaper to produce than most other illicit drugs, and
- Far easier to traffick successfully across national or state borders
Fentanyl is an opioid receptor agonist, meaning it binds to the brain’s natural opioid receptors and causes a significant spike in dopamine levels. To control pain, regulate hormones, and keep us feeling good, our natural neurotransmitters attach to these receptors.
This massive rise in dopamine results in a euphoric state of relaxation, which relieves pain and reduces the feeling of suffering.
Fentanyl, on the other hand, affects other parts of the brain that control function, including those that control breathing, where it depresses the respiratory centers and the cough reflex because it functions in a non-discriminatory manner.
Drug abuse in the US has skyrocketed over the last decade. This is especially worrying because of the types of drugs that are gaining popularity. Synthetic opioids seem to be the new craze among drug users. This is partly due to the fact that they are cheap to produce and are oftentimes much stronger than their organic cousins. Fantanyl for example, is 50-100 times stronger than heroin, and is produced much cheaper. This means fentanyl use has increased exponentially. Fentanyl overdose deaths reached close to 100K in 2020 alone, and 2021 rates are expected to be even higher.fentanyl use
In the event of an accidental overdose, respiratory depression is frequently the primary cause of mortality.
Fentanyl Abuse: The Side Effects
Just as with any other drug, fentanyl’s side effects can vary based on a number of factors, such as:
- How long the user has been using the drug
- How tolerant they are to the drug: fentanyl abusers will have built up a level of tolerance from their long-term use, which means they require more of the drug to achieve the same effects
- The amount of the drug normally used
- The time between each use of the drug
How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?
The “elimination half-life” of a chemical (often referred to as the “half-life”), which is the time it takes for half of the drug to leave the body, is used to determine how long it stays in a person’s body.
Fentanyl’s elimination half-life varies based on the route of administration.
In adults, fentanyl has an elimination half-life of 2 to 4 hours, which means it takes 11 to 22 hours to completely leave your system.