Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate drug that's used to treat severe pain, and it's far stronger than both morphine and heroin. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reported in 2007 that fentanyl was responsible for over 1,000 overdose deaths that year, according to the Foundation for a Drug Free World, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported in October, 2015 that the abuse of Fentanyl-laced heroin is quickly becoming a deadly epidemic across the country.
If you suspect your son is abusing or addicted to Fentanyl, arming yourself with as much information as possible about this potent prescription medication can help you work more effectively toward helping him get the treatment he needs to recover.
How Fentanyl is Used
Fentanyl is most commonly known on the street as China White but may also be referred to as Apache, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Dance Fever. Prescription names for this drug include Duragesic, Sublimaze, Actiq, Fentora, Instanyl, and Abstral.
Although it's typically sold on the street as a white powder known as "synthetic heroin," which is manufactured in illegal laboratories and often mixed with heroin to increase its potency, Fentanyl can also be found in the form of tablets, lozenges, or a trans-dermal patch.
Because Fentanyl is easy to get and relatively inexpensive, it's an increasingly popular street drug, particularly among young people.
Effects of Fentanyl
The main effects of Fentanyl are similar to those of other drugs in the opiate family, which work by binding to opiate receptors in the brain and increasing dopamine levels to produce an intense euphoria and elevated sense wellbeing as well as lethargy and marked drowsiness.
Fentanyl produces tolerance very quickly, which makes the risk of developing an addiction to it very high. Due to inconsistencies in the illegal production of "synthetic heroin," the potential for overdose is also elevated, compared to other street drugs.
Signs of Fentanyl Use
Some of the signs of Fentanyl use that you may notice while your son is under the influence include:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced breathing rate
- Hives or itching
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen extremities
- Sleeping during unusual hours of the day
Over time, continued abuse of Fentanyl can lead to depression, headaches, and weight loss.
Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
If your son is addicted to Fentanyl, he may:
- Experience withdrawal symptoms when Fentanyl is withheld, including hot and cold sweats, achy muscles, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Neglect duties at home, school, or work
- Steal or borrow money to support his habit
- Become socially withdrawn
- Lose interest in activities he once enjoyed
Long-Term Health Effects
Over time, the abuse of Fentanyl can lead to long-term neurological and psychological effects, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. This is due to depressed respiration, which causes hypoxia, a reduction in the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. Long-term use of Fentanyl can also affect the ability to make decisions, regulate behavior, and cope with stressful situations.
The longer someone uses Fentanyl, the higher his risk of suffering an overdose. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration points out that family members of those addicted to Fentanyl should know the signs of overdose and have access to a syringe and the prescription drug naloxone (Narcan, what is Narcan?), both of which can be requested from your physician. Naloxone acts as an antidote to Fentanyl. Signs of a Fentanyl overdose include clammy skin, pinpoint pupils, depressed heartbeat and respiratory rate, extreme drowsiness, and seizures.
There is Hope
A comprehensive drug rehab program will not only offer medical detox to alleviate the pain during withdrawal from Fentanyl, but it will also address the issues underlying the abuse that led to the addiction and help your son find purpose and joy in life without drugs.