59 fentanyl-related deaths were reported in 2019 in England and Wales. This might seem low but, actually, might not be reflective of reality as, currently, fentanyl isn’t included in toxicology reports.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is used in the medicinal world to treat severe pain. It’s often used to ease the pain of people who are in cancer treatment or end-of-life care. Doctors also give it to patients who have sustained severe injuries and around surgery.
As an opioid, it’s similar to morphine in that it’s derived from the poppy but is manmade.
What does Fentanyl do?
When a person takes fentanyl it binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This is the part of the brain associated with pain and emotions. Fentanyl is a painkiller that can also result in feelings of pleasure.
It’s useful to think about the receptors fentanyl binds to and what their point is naturally.
In the brain, there are naturally occurring endorphins; these are the body’s own natural painkiller that also helps you to experience a pleasure.
When a person takes fentanyl, it prevents the natural endorphins from releasing and also overloads the brain with pain-relieving effects which is what causes the feeling of euphoria.
How strong is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is reported to be 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Vice reports that as little as 2 milligrams can be fatal.
It’s a substance that causes severe drug addiction. It’s arguably one of the strongest illegal substances on the streets.
In 2017, it was reported that fentanyl use seemed to be increasing in the UK. However, it’s difficult to know for sure how many people are using it and how many deaths are linked to it because as mentioned earlier, fentanyl isn’t included in hospital toxicology reports.
Illegal drugs that are cut with Fentanyl
People think they’re buying MDMA, for example, but it’s laced with fentanyl.
When this happens it’s extremely dangerous because if the users have no tolerance to fentanyl then they’re seriously susceptible to overdose, and at worst, death.
How is Fentanyl taken?
Fentanyl can be taken in different ways. Depending on whether a person has a legal prescription or is using it illegally means how it’s done tends to “look” a little different.
When prescribed, fentanyl can be taken as a lozenge, shot, or as a patch on skin. Illegally made fentanyl (it’s made in labs predominantly in China) is sold in powder form, as pills, or as a liquid.
The latter of which is dropped onto blotter paper, in eye droppers, or in nasal sprays.
What are the side effects of Fentanyl?
It’s always useful to know what the side effects of a particular drug are, especially if someone you love is addicted.
In relation to someone you love, it helps you to understand what attracted them to the drug in the first place and also helps you be prepared for keeping them safe if they’re under the influence and in your care.
As discussed, fentanyl is used to treat chronic pain, it impacts emotions and sustained use reduces pleasure in anything else.
Its immediate side effects include:
- Euphoric effects and happiness
- Pain relief
- Cold flashes
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
What are the risks of Fentanyl use?
There are various adverse effects and risks associated with fentanyl use. The most obvious is that it can lead to a substance use disorder where the user develops problematic use that can have mental, physical, and social effects.
There are other things to be aware of as well:
- Constipation – when prescribed, other meds are prescribed alongside fentanyl to help with this.
- Impaired brain activity – linked to cognitive functioning and decision-making. Opioid use is shown to reduce grey matter.
- Physical dependence – which occurs with fentanyl use. This is when the body comes to physically rely on it to function in a “normal” way.
- Adverse effects – in the “gastrointestinal, respiratory, cardiovascular, central nervous, musculoskeletal, endocrine, and immune” systems.
Effects of an overdose are:
- Breathing slows down and can stop
- Heart rate slows and can stop
- Reduces of oxygen to the brain leading to hypoxia
- Long-lasting brain damage
- Coma and death
Drug overdose deaths often happen when a person relapses. This is because the person has abstained from the substance for a period of time and when they return to it, they take the same amount as they did before quitting.
The body, however, has reduced its tolerance and one hit that may have previously been tolerated can lead to death.
If you’re ever in a situation where you think someone has overdosed on fentanyl, put them in the recovery position and contact emergency services immediately on 999.
How addictive is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl actually reduces a person’s ability to experience pleasure naturally. This is because, as mentioned earlier, it stops the body from releasing endorphins, its natural pleasure chemical. When fentanyl leaves the body, life can feel hopeless, pointless, and bleak.
When fentanyl is relied on to experience any sensation of pleasure then an opioid use disorder has developed. Interestingly, however, when this occurs, a person will reach a point where they don’t experience pleasure from fentanyl either, but they use it to prevent the painful and distressing withdrawal process.
Fentanyl causes physical dependency as well as psychological addiction. In some cases, a person can develop a dependency without having an addiction. This is more likely to occur in people who have been prescribed the medication as pain relief.
They can come to need the substance physically to function, but psychologically, they’re not addicted.
A person’s individual capacity for addiction is influenced by various factors such as the environment they live in, whether addiction is in the family, what their personality is like, and whether they have a genetic predisposition for addiction.
The potency of fentanyl is incredibly high. If a psychological addiction develops, a person will develop compulsive and uncontrolled use. This will quickly lead to tolerance to the substance building up meaning that the person requires more fentanyl to feel an effect.
Another thing to keep in mind in relation to fentanyl’s potential for addiction is the fact that it’s analgesic, a pain reliever. People who develop addictions to it are commonly experiencing some psychological or emotional pain or trauma.
Expert on addiction, Gabor Maté, states that addiction is clearly linked to trauma and emotional loss.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms
As is typical with opioid withdrawal, the symptoms people experience are incredibly physical as well as psychological. The depth of the experience is what causes so many people to repeatedly fail to quit using.
It’s also why a medical detox under the care of doctors is vital. The body goes through such a process that the person needs to be monitored and medication is needed to ease symptoms.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Cold and flu-like symptoms
- Chills and sweating
- Severe muscle pain
- Severe bone pain
- Sickness and diarrhoea
- Extreme anxiety
Do you have an addiction?
There are common signs that make it clear that you have an addiction to opioids. If you’re experiencing any of the following, then it’s beneficial to acknowledge that the level of your addiction is moderate to severe and professional input and treatment is required.
- Using more fentanyl than you used to
- Using more often
- Spending more and more time and energy in order to get the substance
- Mixing substances to feel more of an effect
- All your thoughts and activities becoming focused on the drug
- Participating in risky behaviours (i.e. driving under the influence)
- Family and friends worrying about your fentanyl use
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Experiencing mental and physical health deterioration
How to help someone addicted to Fentanyl
If you have a loved one who has a fentanyl opioid addiction, there are things you can do to help. Firstly, be aware that you must prioritise your own needs and self-care.
Secondly, as well as looking after your own needs, you need to have boundaries with your loved one. A useful thing to do is to make sure communication with your loved one is as focused on healthy activities as possible.
For instance, cooking and eating or walking together is a positive way to spend time and provide a space of safety for them.
Keeping a non-judgemental and healthy space for an addicted person is really important. It’s also helpful to know about your loved one’s treatment options for when they’re ready to access help around recovery.
Therefore, when the conversation arises, you’re prepared with helpful information that you can pass on.
Is Fentanyl addiction treatable?
Yes, fentanyl addiction is treatable. However, it’s important to be aware of a few things. As you probably know, addiction is a complex illness with many underlying factors.
These factors include:
- Brain structure
- Neural pathways and how they can change
- History of mental health or trauma
To face an addiction, the above factors have to be considered and addressed. This is done through an approach that covers many different areas of the individual’s makeup.
It takes physical, psychological, emotional, and social treatments to treat the cause of addiction as well as its effects.
What treatment therapies are there for Fentanyl addiction?
This is basically the type of clinic you go to and whether you stay at the clinic as a resident for treatment (i.e. as in inpatient) or remain living at home and go to the clinic at specific times for appointments (i.e. as an outpatient).
The main therapies that support people to achieve long-term recovery are:
- Behavioural therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy or dialectical behavioural therapy. These are instrumental in supporting a person to psychologically change. The therapist introduces skills to the patient that helps them to change their thought process and to reframe how they think about and behave in relation to fentanyl.
- Counselling is provided as regular treatment. It’s where people learn how to process thoughts and emotions through healthy communication. This is a key space for making helpful realisations and visualising a sober future.
- Motivational interviewing is where you’ll develop goals and deep willingness and desire to change and become abstinent.
For people with mental health conditions, a rehab programme will include treatments to address this as well. Professionals who work in private clinics are well equipped to and regularly treat people with a dual diagnosis.
Quite often the medication used is Subutex, a manmade opioid used in opioid replacement therapy.
The detox lasts around ten days after which you’ll be substance-free.
Get the Help you need today
If you’re keen to begin your personal road to recovery and quit fentanyl, then it helps to speak to a person who knows what your treatment options are.
By calling the Rehab Recovery team, you make the first step towards quitting much easier.
Get hold of us today to ask any questions you have and be guided around the recovery process.
Is recovery possible for fentanyl addiction?
Yes, it is possible to recover from fentanyl addiction. The most effective way of doing so is by entering a medical detox and through participating in various therapies. A stay at a private clinic offers the most beneficial environment to begin recovery in.
How does fentanyl withdrawal vary from heroin withdrawal?
Fentanyl withdrawal is very similar to heroin withdrawal. The main difference is that users may feel that it’s harder to go through fentanyl withdrawal because the substance is stronger. Either substance requires a medical detox to come off it in a controlled way.