Fentanyl is a synthetic drug in the opioid family. Like morphine, doctors may prescribe fentanyl to treat pain. While more often manufactured in tablet form, fentanyl also comes as a patch, spray, or injectable solution. Some common brand names of fentanyl include Actiq, Abstral, Lazanda, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. As an opioid, fentanyl binds with receptors in the brain to inhibit the feeling of pain. This pain prevention makes the drug viable for medical use, helping patients who show no reaction to any other pain reducing medications. So, what makes fentanyl so dangerous? There are many reasons, but the most important factor is its potency. Fentanyl packs a much stronger punch than most other opioids; it is approximately 100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin when preventing pain. This strong effect makes fentanyl both intensely addictive as well as remarkably dangerous.
How Does Fentanyl Stack Up Against Other Opioids?
An individual only needs 1/100th of the amount of fentanyl to feel the same effect as morphine. Morphine is one of the oldest and most commonly known opioid pain-relievers, so comparing fentanyl to it can highlight its strength. The synthetic fentanyl beats opium-sourced morphine in almost every category, including in addiction potential. When taken intravenously, fentanyl takes effect within one minute, and peaks in effectivity at around the 3 minute mark. Morphine, on the other hand, takes approximately 5 minutes to set in, and peaks after about 10 minutes. Fentanyl is undoubtedly faster, but wears off quicker as well, having a lasting effect for about 45 minutes maximum.
While fentanyl can save a patient from undue minutes of serious pain, it has illicitly become a serious problem in recent years. The synthetic opioid has become incredibly widespread, and was responsible for two-thirds of all opioid-related deaths in 2018. To put that number in perspective, Fentanyl was involved in twice as many overdose deaths as heroin.
Why is Fentanyl as Dangerous as it is?
Fentanyl’s potency leads many to abuse it. By injecting, snorting, sniffing, smoking, taking orally, or by using a fentanyl patch, users of the drug enjoy the euphoric pain-relief it grants. Even though a user might not be suffering from pain, the opioid still takes effect, and puts the person in a state of bliss. However, people who abuse fentanyl may also experience serious side effects:
- Decreased Breathing
Overdosing on such a powerful opioid also becomes much easier. Anything more than 300 micrograms becomes dangerous. While 300 of anything might seem like a large number, micrograms are equal to one thousandth of a milligram, and one millionth of a gram. Considering a paper clip weighs about one gram, a lethal dose of pure fentanyl would be incredibly small. An individual suffering from an overdose of fentanyl would have clammy skin, stupor or coma, pinpoint pupils, or drastically decreased breathing. Call emergency services right away if you think you or someone you know might be suffering from an overdose.
How Does Fentanyl Interact With Alcohol?
As with many other drugs, fentanyl mixes with alcohol to cause serious problems in anyone who takes both simultaneously. Because both of these drugs slow down the processes of the nervous system, together they can cause a life-threatening interaction. Just like with an overdose of fentanyl, an overdose on both alcohol and fentanyl causes severely slowed breathing, a dangerously reduced heart rate, vomiting, or unconsciousness. Alcohol also increases the chance of an overdose, as well as death in overdose victims.
How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?
Fentanyl can take effect within a minute if injected, but fentanyl patches and tablets are more common. When taken as a patch, users may not experience pain relief for as long as 24 hours. Tablets, on the other hand, can take as little as 30 minutes to begin preventing pain. Regardless, the medicine takes several days to a week to completely leave the body, and can be found in trace amounts in blood, urine, or even hair.
While fentanyl lingers in the body for a while, the original effects usually wear off within 24 hours, depending on the method. Fentanyl patches are the longest lasting, while injections have the shortest amount of effective time.
Why is Fentanyl so Dangerous: Withdrawal
Because fentanyl affects its users so strongly, many people who abuse it become addicted to the feeling. Not only does overdose risk increase when taken without a prescription, but people who commonly take fentanyl will eventually build a tolerance for the drug, meaning they need more and more to get the same feeling from it. The dependence that the body eventually develops for fentanyl also means that suddenly quitting fentanyl can have strong withdrawal symptoms. Some side effects of withdrawal from fentanyl include:
Fentanyl Treatment and Recovery
Serious withdrawal symptoms are rarely life-threatening, but quitting abruptly can be miserable. As a result, it’s important to slowly stop taking fentanyl. However, the unpleasant symptoms can prompt those suffering from withdrawal to relapse. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction of any kind, contact us today. The journey back to sobriety is tough, but doesn’t need to be taken alone. If you would like to read more visit our blog.