Overview of Fentanyl

There are many, many substances to which a person could become addicted. Oftentimes when we think about addiction, our minds go to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or even heroin, which are substances that have been quite problematic on a large scale for some years now. However, these aren’t the only substances that pose threats. Even when we look only at the opiates that exist, there are a wide range of substances that continue to be problematic. In fact, a drug called fentanyl has gotten much publicity lately due to the number of deaths that have been attributed to the drug. But what, exactly, is fentanyl? Where does it come from? What are its effects? What are the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal? And how does a person overcome fentanyl addiction?

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What exactly is fentanyl?

Before we take a closer look at fentanyl, it’s important to have an understanding of its background, which requires a brief discussion of opium. Derived from the opium poppy, opium is a sap-like substance that has been used for thousands of years for things like surgical anesthesia, spiritual practices, as a treatment for respiratory illness, and even recreationally. In fact, our history with opium goes back thousands of years to the days of ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. Specifically, these are societies that lived thousands of years ago and who inspired the continued use of opium that continues in some ways even today.
It was when opium was brought to China that the drug’s use really began to spread around the world. Upon reaching China, the drug’s use became so widespread that opium is still strongly associated with Chinese culture. As well, it was when Chinese immigrants brought their opium use westward that it was finally introduced in the United States, resulting in the emergence of countless opium dens throughout the U.S.; these were places where individuals could go to enjoy opium recreationally. Meanwhile, it was being use for a variety of other therapeutic purposes, including as a cough suppressant and analgesic. However, it was soon realized that opium was extremely addictive and implicated with a number of negative effects, leading a number of researchers to begin experimenting with opium in the hope of finding something that offered similar effects without so many negative effects.

Upon taking a closer look at opium, researchers realized that the drug’s active effects were the result of two key alkaloids: codeine and morphine. The idea was that they’d experiment on these two substances in the hope of developing the next-best thing. It wasn’t until 1959 that fentanyl would finally emerge, following the inception of pethidine, which is most familiar as the substance called Demerol. After its creation, researchers quickly realized that fentanyl was between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine, which was especially dangerous since fentanyl was first designed as for intravenous use (under the trade name Sublimaze).
Clinical trials continued until the 1990s when the success of OxyContin put immense pressure on pharmaceutical companies to get their opiates to market. Since fentanyl was known to be so much more powerful than virtually any other opiate, it was combined with an inert alcohol gel and put in the form of a “strip”, which a user could wear to receive small yet steady doses of fentanyl throughout into his or her body throughout the day.
Most recently, fentanyl has gained media attention for being the alleged cause of a number of overdose deaths throughout the United States. With heroin use and addiction at an all-time high, it’s becoming quite common for individuals who both use and sell heroin to attempt to ‘stretch’ their heroin supply by diluting it since having more weight will mean having more to sell; however, this often decreases the strength of the heroin, leading some to add fentanyl to the heroin mixture. By adding fentanyl, the heroin actually becomes exponentially more powerful than before, resulting in much increased rates of heroin overdose.

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Effects of fentanyl

As mentioned above, the effects of fentanyl are between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine, which some consider to be the quintessential opiate. Meanwhile, fentanyl offers a number of characteristics similar to other opiates as well as certain depressants, putting users in grave danger. Of course, fentanyl is most familiar in its strip form, but it can actually be imbibed in a number of ways. For instance, many users will ingest fentanyl orally despite the fact that this is one of the least efficient routes of administration. Alternately, fentanyl can be worn as a patch — these individuals wear multiple fentanyl patches at the same time to amplify the drug’s effects — or even injected. Similar to other opiates, the initial intake of fentanyl is met with the characteristic opiate ‘rush’, which is a sense of warmth and numbness or a tingling sensation that radiates throughout the body. As well, users feel an immense relaxation and drowsiness, decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, and difficulty with coordination. It’s often difficult for fentanyl users to think clearly, too.

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms

Being one of the most powerful opiate drugs in existence, those who become addicted to fentanyl experience withdrawal symptoms when they’re unable to obtain or take the drug. Among the most common of these symptoms, there’s insomnia, sweating, nausea, diarrhea and/or vomiting, intense physical discomfort throughout the body, yawning, sweating, watery eyes, runny nose, restlessness, agitation, mood swings, and a number of other effects. Typically, these withdrawal symptoms are mild at first, becoming increasingly more pronounced and severe the more time that the individual in question spends without the substance.

Overcoming fentanyl addiction

It’s incredibly scary to be addicted to fentanyl. In fact, one of the most common reasons why addicts continue to remain in active addiction is because they fear withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, there are many resources available to make overcoming fentanyl addiction possible. Typically, this begins with detoxification, which is a period during which the individual addressed the physical aspects of the addiction; in short, the objective is to ensure that he or she isn’t experiencing withdrawals when he or she begins the treatment phase. Next, the treatment phase consists of individual counseling, group therapy, life skills sessions, relapse prevention training, holistic therapies, and various other elements. The idea is to ensure that each of an individual unique needs have been addressed, giving him or her optimal chances of achieving long-lasting sobriety.

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