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Across the country, fentanyl has been devastating communities and straining health and law enforcement resources with skyrocketing rates of overdose fatalities. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50-100 times stronger. The schedule II prescription drug is used for pain treatment and management but its synthetic nature and potency has ignited a public health crisis. Learn more about this opioid and it’s dangers to better understand how fentanyl can affect your life or someone you love.
What Is Fentanyl?
When prescribed, fentanyl is used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery, and is administered by injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenges. On the street, however, it is used to increase other drugs’ potency and comes in other forms:
- Spiked on blotter paper
- Mixed with or substituted for heroin
- Tablets that mimic other, less potent opioids
Fentanyl can be swallowed, snorted, injected, or absorbed through the mucous membrane by putting blotter paper in the mouth.
Like other opioid drugs, fentanyl binds to the body’s opioid receptors in areas of the brain which control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can increase dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. Fentanyl, however, can also cause drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death.
Why Is Fentanyl Dangerous?
Besides dopamine levels, opioid receptors in our brain also affect breathing rate. When high doses of fentanyl hit a person’s system, it can slow down the breathing rate to the point where it stops – possibly leading to coma or death. Since fentanyl is more potent than other drugs, risks of overdosing greatly increase. Those risks further increase if a person doesn’t know that a powder or pill contains fentanyl. That’s because fentanyl sold on the street can be counterfeited as other drugs like Oxycontin, or cut with heroin or cocaine, thus amplifying its potency and potential dangers.
According to a 2016 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report, there had been a 426 percent increase in cases where fentanyl or other synthetic opioids turned up in drugs seized by police in 2013 and 2014. At the same time, they noted a corresponding 79 percent rise in fatal overdoses in 27 states. Fentanyl, however, could be even more prevalent since many coroners and state crime labs don’t routinely test for it.
Where Does It Come From?
Fentanyl’s potency, while dangerous, also makes it incredibly lucrative to Mexican cartels and U.S. drug dealers. Heroin requires careful cultivation of poppy fields, whereas synthetic opioids can be cheaply manufactured on an industrial scale with basic chemical knowledge. Due to its synthetic nature, drug dealers can get more money out of their heroin by diluting it with fentanyl. Its extreme potency allows for the heroin to be cut and split into many more kilos, increasing a dealer’s profits.
Drug dealers can get the fentanyl as a finished product directly from China, where it is manufactured both illicitly and by legitimate pharmaceutical companies, or by buying the requisite chemicals from the Chinese and making it themselves. Since fentanyl can come in so many different forms, users and smaller drug dealers can be unaware of what’s actually in the drug that they’re buying or selling.
A Growing Crisis
Fentanyl has caused deaths across the United States from California to Ohio to Connecticut to here in our home state of Florida. In Palm Beach County alone, more than 375 people overdosed and died from opiates such as heroin between January and September 2016. Records from the county medical examiner also showed that opiate deaths had surpassed 2015’s total drug overdose deaths.
One reasons behind the spike in overdoses in Palm Beach County is because it’s a popular destination for addiction treatment. More than a quarter of Florida’s approximately 750 treatment centers have locations in Palm Beach County.
Recovering addicts often receive treatment while living in sober homes or halfway houses, which are unregulated community housing protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act was designed to protect recovering addicts from discrimination, but it also prevents cities from regulating, or even knowing how many homes are in their locale. This lack of oversight can lead to illicit business practices in the recovery industry involving bonuses, bribes, and kickbacks for patient referrals.
Finding The Right Addiction Treatment
Opioid addiction was devastating enough before fentanyl, but now it’s even more dangerous since it can take anyone’s life with as little as a single dose. There are a variety of benefits for seeking addiction treatment in South Florida, but due to some unscrupulous businesses, it’s important to choose the right one. Rally Point offers a variety of treatment options and a supportive team of professionals who are ready to help you or someone you love quit their addiction before fentanyl claims another life.