Drug overdoses have nearly doubled in the past decade in the US, and the current opiate addiction epidemic is a major contributor. In some regions of the US, including the state of Ohio, overdose deaths caused by opiates have increased as much as 500% when compared to previous years.
What’s alarming about this trend is that the opiate medications that are linked to the overdoses are far more powerful than the commonly prescribed OxyContin or Vicodin. The emergence of Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, is being used as a recreational drug by people unaware of the serious consequences.
Overdose Deaths 2001-2014
The Effects of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is an opiate painkiller that is commonly prescribed to patients who have undergone invasive surgeries that require lengthy recoveries or who experience pain caused by certain cancers. For patients with persistent pain, some opiates like OxyContin do not deliver the relief needed to function normally throughout the day. This condition is known as breakthrough pain, or pain flare-ups that do not respond to traditional opiates. In such cases, doctors can prescribe Fentanyl as a way to minimize breakthrough pain, and some doctors may even prescribe Fentanyl in combination with other opiate medications. However, this powerful opiate is being used as a recreational drug and is sometimes mixed with heroin or even laced in marijuana.
The most serious consequence of Fentanyl is that once it is in the system, the body can develop a serious dependence on the drug-- even if it is taken as prescribed. In patients who need breakthrough pain relief, Fentanyl can be administered in a hospital through injections by a nurse or doctor or through a Fentanyl gel transdermal patch that is applied directly to the skin and delivers a continuous dose of pain medication through the system. Patients who use Fentanyl for breakthrough pain may experience common side effects like nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the hands and feet or ankles.
Individuals who use Fentanyl as a recreational drug are at a far greater risk for developing life-threatening side effects to the medication and overdosing. Effects of illicit Fentanyl made in unauthorized labs are far more dangerous, since the dosage strength, chemical composition and quality is unregulated. Using a Fentanyl patch when you don’t need pain relief can cause feelings of euphoria and hallucinations. However, not every individual experiences such effects of the medication. Severe reactions to Fentanyl commonly include shallow breathing, chest pain, confusion, and even sudden heart attack. Ultimately, the body is unable to metabolize Fentanyl and triggers respiratory arrest that can lead to sudden death.