What is Fentanyl and How Does It Work?
Fentanyl is a drug classified as an opioid, like morphine and heroin. Opioids are all drugs that come from the opium poppy plant. While some of them can be made from opium poppy directly, others are manufactured in labs.
Opioids act directly in the opioid receptors, which are responsible for managing how we feel pain and pleasure. These drugs then help release chemicals that make the user feel relaxed. These substances also affect people’s sensibility to pain. Prescription opioids are mainly used for pain management for individuals who have chronic pain or are undergoing procedures like chemotherapy.
It is possible to safely use opioids when prescribed by a doctor, as long as the instructions are followed correctly. However, these drugs are meant to be short-term prescriptions, used only for a few days. Long-term treatment with opioids can be risky and is only recommended for extreme cases. With time, the body can grow accustomed to the rush of chemicals released by opioid use, which can cause chemical and neural imbalances.
That is why many government agencies have made efforts to better control the frequency of prescriptions. Many states have done their best to keep the number of prescriptions as low as possible. The reason for that is because the U.S. is currently going through what is considered an opioid crisis – and the current main culprit is fentanyl. But this issue has gone beyond prescription opioids and has worsened due to illegal versions and analogs.
Fentanyl can also be prescribed legally, and it is often used to treat severe pain associated with advanced cancer. Usually, it is prescribed as a patch or as lozenges, and it can also be injected or used as an oral or nasal spray. But the drug has been diverted since becoming more popular and consumed illegally, often mixed with other drugs like heroin or cocaine. It has been known to be crushed as a powder to facilitate substance abuse.
The Effects of Fentanyl and Addiction
Fentanyl itself acts just like any other opioid – by attaching itself to the opioid receptors, which control pain and emotion. Once it’s done that, it increases dopamine release. This, in turn, affects the brain’s reward center, bringing on a sense of euphoria and relaxation.
The reason why people become addicted to an opioid is that, with time, the brain becomes used to its presence. After prolonged use, it needs the effects generated by fentanyl use to even function properly. Addiction to opioids affects judgment, decision-making, self-control, and other behaviors. For all of these reasons and more, the medical community has come to agree that addiction is a brain disease.
The difference between fentanyl and other legal drugs like morphine is its potency. Compared to morphine, legal fentanyl is around 100 times more potent. This means users have a higher chance of overdosing on it. And what’s worse: fentanyl analogs tend to be even stronger, and since they’re not controlled substances, it’s harder to predict the outcome of use.
Even when using the drug correctly, there are possible adverse side effects. So, naturally, abusing fentanyl can bring on serious issues. The most commonly reported symptoms by people who have used it are:
- Urinary retention
- Slowed breathing
- Drowsiness and/or dizziness
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or constipation
- Constricted pupils and/or blurred vision
These, however, are not the only possible issues, and they can get more and more intense. With time, people have reported suffering from arrhythmia, along with chest pains. Others have also had both vision and auditory hallucinations. Slowed breathing, however, can lead to shallow breathing, and some fentanyl users have even stopped breathing while asleep.
This slowed breathing can also lead to another life-threatening issue, called hypoxia. This condition is characterized by lowered levels of oxygen reaching the brain. Hypoxia can cause serious, permanent effects, such as brain damage, comas, and even death.
Other issues not related to side effects might arise from fentanyl use. Those who inject the drug and might share needles can contract diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Clouded judgment during the high can lead to risky behavior, such as unprotected sex, putting users at risk of contracting STDs. Kidney and liver complications might be triggered by prolonged use as well. Fentanyl is metabolized in the liver and then broken down in the liver, so it can overwork both organs.
How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?
The presence of a drug in the system depends on what is called elimination half-life. In simpler terms, it is the amount of time the body takes to process and eliminate half of the original dose of the drug. Fentanyl is considered a fast-acting opioid, so it might start metabolizing quicker than long-acting ones.
Different possible tests can be done to detect fentanyl in the system: blood, urine, and hair. It is hard to predict the exact time it will take for it not to show up in these tests, but there is a general average:
Blood – anywhere between 5 and 48 hours after the last dose.
Urine (most commonly used by employers) – anywhere between 24 and 72 hours after the last dose.
Hair – up to about 90 days after the last dose.
*It is important to know that there is a possibility for a false positive in case you’ve taken Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Since Benadryl can trigger a false positive, you should inform the lab and/or testing agency in case you’ve taken it before testing.
The reason why you can only get an average of fentanyl half-life is that there are many variables in the equation. In order to know how long fentanyl will stay in the system, a few factors need to be taken into account:
Dose – Since half-life is about half of the original dose taken, the total amount of the drug in the system will affect how long it can be detected. The bigger the dose, the longer it will take to be flushed out completely.
Metabolism – While there is no “speed” rate for metabolizing drugs, people with impaired renal or liver function will take longer to metabolize it. That is because fentanyl is initially metabolized into norfentanyl in the liver, which is then broken down in the kidneys. Anything that might slow down the metabolism will affect half-life.
Source of pain – For those taking it for pain management, the source of pain will “use” fentanyl at different rates. Those with severe burns, for instance, may experience faster clearance of the drug. This is because of cardiac output and hepatic blood flow, which speed up the process.
How to Get Fentanyl Out of Your System
Unlike substances like alcohol, fentanyl won’t get out of your system if you drink more water, exercise, sweat, etc. And even after being metabolized, fentanyl leaves detectable metabolites in the system long after being processed. The only way to flush fentanyl out is to stop taking the drug completely. Beating a test is only possible by genuinely not taking the drug.
In case you’re researching this because you’re afraid you might have overdosed, you need to seek medical attention. The only drug administered during an overdose is called naloxone. It does not remove the toxins from the system, it just blocks opiate receptors in the body. They are administered by trained professionals once they get on the scene.
Naloxone only acts for about 30-90 minutes after being administered. By that time, however, opioids might still be active in the system. It is only an immediate measure to be taken in an emergency, but it doesn’t clear the system of opioids. That is why you must call for help in case of an overdose, as naloxone is only a temporary solution.
Blocking opiate receptors instantly means that you will go into withdrawal, and may start experiencing its symptoms. One of the most common symptoms is vomiting. That said, if the person is unconscious, they should be put in a safe position to avoid vomit aspiration. Another reported symptom is dope sickness, which will also be temporary.
Get Rid of Fentanyl Dependence Safely At Coastal Detox
Fentanyl is currently one of the biggest menaces in the U.S. for drug and alcohol addiction. Thousands of families have been impacted by its devastating effects. But luckily, the medical and psychiatric community has been learning and preparing for it, coming up with ways to overcome this addiction.
At Coastal Detox, we are proud to be a part of the solution, designing programs made to help those addicted to fentanyl to get clean and healthy again.
We have designed programs to suit everyone’s needs, no matter the level of addiction. Our addiction treatment pairs medical and psychiatric knowledge and supervision with holistic techniques. All treatment sessions are done at our unit in Stuart, in state-of-the-art facilities, with a team prepared for any emergencies.
If you or a loved one are in dire need of help, contact us today via telephone or online. Our team will be able to answer any questions you might have and provide all the information you need. We’ll be happy to tell you more about our multiple treatment programs and the possible solutions to your problem. You can even schedule a tour of our facilities to see how you feel. We hope to be the ones to guide you in your path to recovery, and we hope you’ll start today.