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What Is Fentanyl and Why Is It So Dangerous?



Fentanyl, a dangerous and addictive opioid, is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contribute to 100,000 overdose fatalities in 2022 alone.

In addition to being an opioid, fentanyl has medical uses, which leads to a lot of people wondering, “why is fentanyl so dangerous?”

What is Fentanyl?

Despite its association with a spike in overdose deaths in recent years, fentanyl is not a new drug. ‌The FDA approved Sublimaze, a synthetic opioid, in 1968, following its creation in Belgium in 1960. It was used as an intravenous anesthetic. ‌After decades, a transdermal patch containing fentanyl was developed in 1998. ‌A public health warning was issued by the FDA in 2005, and another was issued by 2007 regarding the patch's dangers.

Compared with natural opioids like morphine, fentanyl is 80-100 times more potent. ‌Generally, fentanyl is prescribed after surgery, injury, or serious illness to relieve pain. Nevertheless, fentanyl is also classified as a Schedule II drug by‌ ‌the United‌ ‌States‌ ‌Drug Enforcement‌ ‌Administration (DEA). ‌Although it does have some legitimate uses, it also has a high risk‌ ‌for‌ ‌abuse‌ ‌and addiction.

Why is Fentanyl Dangerous?

We can understand why fentanyl is dangerous by looking at how opioids work.

An opioid attaches‌ ‌to‌ ‌opioid‌ ‌receptors‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌brain. ‌Synthetic drugs attach to neurotransmitters that control pleasure and pain, so they can relieve pain and elicit euphoria when attached to them.

It is likely that the body will crave the drugs again even after the first dose. ‌These responses are caused by the reward centers of the brain. ‌In the brain, the pleasure-inducing chemicals released by this process are so powerful that they make the negative effects seem ‌trivial.

If one is unaware of the presence of fentanyl, the risk of overdose and death increases dramatically. ‌Overdosing on fentanyl can have very serious consequences, and there is usually‌ ‌little‌ ‌time‌ ‌for‌ ‌successful‌ ‌intervention. ‌Symptoms of ‌overdose‌ ‌include:

  • Feeling extremely sleepy, groggy, or fatigued

  • Breathing difficulties,‌ ‌slowed‌ ‌respiratory‌ ‌function

  • Nausea, vomitting

  • Pinpoint pupils

  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating

  • Inability to walk due to loss of coordination

  • Dizziness

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Slowed heart rate

  • Coma

The list is by no means exhaustive. And it does not cover the negative effects fentanyl has on your social, work, or daily lives.

Overdosing on fentanyl is the most dangerous side effect. ‌If left untreated, any addiction will follow this path. ‌As a tolerance builds to these substances, the impact of the drug will lessen. ‌Usually, an overdose is caused by a weakened‌ ‌nervous‌ ‌system.

The same property that makes opioids useful for some medical purposes also makes them dangerous, according to the Mayo Clinic. ‌Opioids are such effective pain relievers that they may cause addiction even if someone is only taking the prescribed medication.

Although fentanyl works like other opioids, it is much stronger. ‌According to the DEA, fentanyl has 100 times the potency of morphine and 50 times the potency of heroin as an analgesic.

Additionally, when fentanyl is mixed with other drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (Xanax), and cocaine, it can slow down someone's breathing significantly and prevent them from waking up again if they pass out from being overmedicated.

So, what makes fentanyl so ‌dangerous?

Most commonly, it's because of the large dosages people take. ‌DEA guidelines state that 2 milligrams of the pure substance is sufficient for a fatal‌ ‌dose. ‌Approximately 42% of the pills confiscated that contain fentanyl and that were illegally distributed tested to be‌ ‌2‌ ‌milligrams‌ ‌or‌ ‌more.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?

Fentanyl‌ ‌becomes increasingly dangerous when you are not aware of how long it remains‌ ‌in‌ ‌your system. ‌It is still possible for it to remain in your system even if you think it has cleared, which can cause serious damage‌ ‌to‌ ‌your‌ ‌body or potentially an overdose.

Blood and urine can contain fentanyl‌ ‌two‌ ‌to‌ ‌three‌ ‌days‌ ‌after‌ ‌use. ‌If‌ ‌you‌ ‌are‌ ‌taking fentanyl‌ ‌by prescription, you should not stop its use without talking to your doctor about how soon the symptoms should improve before discontinuing its use.

In the event that you have consumed a drug containing fentanyl within the past couple of weeks, any other medication you take may still leave remnants of fentanyl in your body.

Various factors, including a person's biochemistry, make it difficult to predict precisely what will happen. ‌Nevertheless, whenever two or more substances contain an opiate-like substance such as Fentanyl, the risk increases exponentially.

Addiction to Fentanyl

The effects of fentanyl addiction are numerous, including physical, psychological, and social. ‌As the number of people addicted to opiates increases, it is alarming. ‌A large majority of these are being introduced via prescription painkillers like Oxycontin or Percocet, which can be extremely‌ ‌addictive.

Overdoses from prescription opioids now kill more Americans than heroin.

The use of fentanyl will cause you a great deal of trouble in all faucets of your life. It can fracture relationships, jeopardize your career, and also harm you financially. Besidesl having to pay higher prices for drugs, there’s a lose income as a result of lost productivity caused by health problems related to drugs.

What are some signs that‌ ‌you‌, or someone you know, ‌are‌ ‌starting‌ ‌to‌ ‌become‌ ‌addicted‌ ‌to‌ ‌fentanyl?

Fentanyl addiction can be detected in several ways:

  • It takes more of the drug to achieve the desired ‌effects.

  • When you stop using it, you have withdrawal symptoms.

  • Continuing‌ ‌to use despite negative effects.

How Can Fentanyl Addiction Be Treated?

Even though fentanyl has a potency far greater than that of most other drugs, including opioids, recovery remains‌ ‌‌‌attainable. ‌Treatment‌ ‌will‌ ‌likely‌ ‌include‌ ‌detox programs, inpatient or outpatient care, sober living homes, and supportive services.

Behavioral interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy have been found to be effective, making up a significant portion of the treatment plan. ‌Providing you with career, education, housing, childcare, and financial support may also be a part of the program.

Moreover, the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that three medications are able to help with opioid detox, including methadone, buprenorphine,‌ ‌and‌ ‌naltrexone. ‌In addition to blocking the effects of fentanyl, these substances reduce fentanyl cravings.


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