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Fentanyl: What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

Middle-aged man holding a pill bottle.

Do you think you know the basics about the opioid crisis in the U.S.? 

Sure, some people get hooked on opioids after getting a prescription for the painkillers. Cocaine and heroin have always been dangerous illicit drugs, and fatal overdoses involving opioids are becoming more and more common.

But you may be unaware of the biggest contributor to the epidemic of opioid deaths in America: fentanyl.

Fentanyl Overtakes Prescription Painkillers as Deadliest Opioid

An article that was recently published in JAMA illustrates just how impactful fentanyl is in today’s opioid crisis. Epidemiologists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration examined opioid deaths between 2010 and 2016.

The study revealed that 46 percent of all opioid-related fatalities involved fentanyl in 2016, which marked a colossal increase from six years earlier. Furthermore, that 46 percent figure is higher than the percentage of similar deaths involving prescription opioids (40 percent) or heroin (36.6 percent). [The majority of fatal opioid overdoses involve multiple drugs – like fentanyl and heroin, for example.]

What is Fentanyl?

Although you may have only heard about fentanyl in recent years, the drug was actually invented in 1959 by Janssen Pharmaceutica in Belgium and used mostly as an anesthetic and pain reliever. Physicians still prescribe fentanyl today for patients with severe or chronic pain, like people who have undergone surgery or are battling cancer. 

Most of the illicit fentanyl found today comes from China, where pharmaceutical regulations are laxer than they are in the U.S. The reason fentanyl is so popular among drug abusers is that it is between 50 and 100 times more powerful than morphine, so users only need to ingest a very small amount in order to get high or become numb.

Penny with a two mg of fentanyl next to it.

Two milligrams of fentanyl (Image credit: www.gao.gov)

Fentanyl: The Hidden Killer

The problem is that a substantial number of fentanyl users do not even know they are ingesting it. That is because many drug dealers cut their cocaine or heroin (or infuse their black market pain pills) with small amounts of fentanyl in order to amplify their effect.

Unsurprisingly, many overdoses result from instances where users are not aware of the presence of fentanyl in their drugs (such as heroin mixed with fentanyl). In some cases, fentanyl is accidentally ingested by touching a surface which is contaminated with fentanyl or inhaling air where atomized fentanyl is present. While the drug naloxone can reverse the effects of fentanyl if administered shortly after an overdose, more than one dose may be required to be completely effective.

Do Not Underestimate the Danger

Sadly, teens and young adults may be more prone to experiment with fentanyl than their older counterparts. Not only do adolescents commonly push boundaries and overestimate their invincibility, but they also may be cynical about the dangers of fentanyl if they have been exposed to erroneous or exaggerated information about other illicit drugs (for example, that marijuana is “deadly” or everyone gets addicted to cocaine after one dose).

Because of its strong potency, the hazards of fentanyl should never be minimized. If you think that someone you know is taking fentanyl without a prescription, confront them immediately and urge them to seek medical attention or enroll in a drug rehabilitation program. Because fentanyl is so perilous, what people do not know about it CAN actually hurt (or kill) them.

Contact us for more information on how to get help for someone who is abusing fentanyl.

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