Duragesic is a skin patch that contains fentanyl, which is a powerful pain reliever. Doctors typically prescribe Duragesic to treat moderate to severe pain around the clock. People with mild or occasional pain, or pain resulting from surgery, rarely use it. Fentanyl is also available in lozenge form, as well as in pills, shots, nasal sprays, IV fluids, and a film that dissolves in the mouth.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), fentanyl is an opiate analgesic that is derived synthetically in a lab.
It is more potent than morphine and classified as a Schedule II prescription drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse and can lead to psychological or physical dependence with extended use.
Like other opiates, fentanyl works by manipulating pain receptors in the central nervous system. It binds to these receptors and stimulates the production of dopamine, which can produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
Abuse of Fentanyl
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids increased by 200 percent from 2000 to 2014. Overdosing on fentanyl is a very real possibility, especially for individuals who take it recreationally without the guidance of a doctor.
The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that people obtain fentanyl illegally through pharmacy theft, fraudulent prescriptions, and illicit distribution by physicians, pharmacists, and patients. Some street names for fentanyl are:
- China girl
- Murder 8
- Dance fever
- Murder 8
- China white
- Tango and Cash
Doctors who prescribe fentanyl for pain relief monitor their patients in an effort to prevent abuse and the development of an addiction; however, even people under medical supervision can develop a dependence on fentanyl. Some signs that a loved one may be abusing fentanyl are:
- Taking the drug in larger doses or more frequently over time
- Trying to cut down on use but failing to do so
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of fentanyl
- Failing to fulfill financial, professional, familial, or social responsibilities
- Abandoning favorite activities
- Continuing to use the drug regardless of its negative effects
Abusing fentanyl is especially dangerous because it is incredibly easy to overdose.
The CDC reports that fentanyl is 80 times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin.
When people purchase it on the street for recreational purchases, they cannot even be sure that fentanyl is all they are getting. Taking fentanyl with other drugs could lead to life-threatening complications.
Though the consequences of fentanyl abuse are scary, it is important to remember that addiction is a disease, and there are ways to treat it. If a loved one is showing signs of abusing fentanyl, and family members have reason to believe that an addiction is developing, help is available. With comprehensive care, people can leave fentanyl abuse in their past for good and embrace a new life in recovery.
Abuse and Addiction
Anyone can develop an addiction to fentanyl, but there are a few factors that make some individuals more likely to do so than others. Perhaps surprisingly, fentanyl’s potency actually makes it less popular for those looking to use opioids recreationally.
According to a report originally published in the US Department of Health & Human Services Public Access, in one study, 75 percent of prescription-opioid-dependent respondents preferred hydrocodone and oxycodone, while less than 5 percent of respondents chose fentanyl. The reasoning most commonly given for this disparity was fear of toxicity and overdose from fentanyl. Because of this hesitancy to start using fentanyl, one of the most common demographics to abuse fentanyl includes those who first obtained it through a legitimate prescription in order to treat pain.
Of course, just because a loved one has a prescription for fentanyl does not mean an addiction is imminent. There are ways to manage fentanyl dependence and reduce the risk of addiction. Unfortunately, not everyone can recognize the signs of abuse from the start, and even doctors may fail to see them in their patients. The risks of abusing fentanyl are severe, which is why loved ones should step in and encourage treatment as soon as they witness a growing dependence on fentanyl. Abuse turns into addiction when an individual can no longer stop taking fentanyl without outside help.
Risks of Abusing Fentanyl
Fentanyl is a powerful drug, and patients run the risk of experiencing negative side effects every time they use it, regardless of whether they are taking it under a doctor’s orders or not. Some of the minor side effects of using fentanyl for any length of time are:
- Back pain
- Muscle stiffness
- Trouble sleeping
Fentanyl can also produce major negative side effects that require medical attention immediately. Some of these effects are:
- Black, tarry stool
- Chest pain
- Blurred vision
- Labored breathing
- Fever or chills
- Drastic changes in mood
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unusual bruising or bleeding
If a loved one is using fentanyl and exhibits any of the above symptoms, it is critical to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Individuals who abuse fentanyl also run the risk of overdosing on it, which can result in seizures and even death.
Even those who are taking fentanyl under doctors’ orders have the potential to overdose on the drug. According to a report originally published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, after the prescribed application time of a fentanyl patch has elapsed, enough of the drug still remains in the patch to deliver a fatal overdose.
Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
There are a variety of ways to treat fentanyl addiction. It is important to remember that no single treatment method will work for everyone, but most people can generally find success with a combination of treatment options that address their particular issues.
For strong substances like fentanyl, medical detox is required due to the physical dependence that quickly develops when a person abuses the drug or uses it on a long-term basis.
Ambulatory detox programs are important because they ensure that those experiencing withdrawal symptoms have access to a team of healthcare professionals. According to the US National Library of Medicine, individuals should not attempt to come off fentanyl on their own because they could experience life-threatening complications from withdrawal symptoms.
The intensity and duration of fentanyl withdrawal symptoms will ultimately depend on the individual and the extent of the addiction, but some withdrawal symptoms occur more frequently than others. The most common withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl include chills, hot flashes, night sweats, rapid breathing, muscle aches, and irritability. Going through withdrawal may not be pleasant, but staff members at an ambulatory detox program know how to handle the most severe symptoms so they become manageable. In addition, 24-hour support ensures that individuals make it through withdrawal without relapsing to substance use.
Following medical clearance after undergoing withdrawal, clients may choose to enter an inpatient treatment program or an intensive outpatient treatment. Generally, inpatient care is recommended in cases of severe addiction, for those who have attempted outpatient care before and then relapsed, and in cases of dual diagnosis. Oftentimes, however, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) can provide the same high-level care in a different environment.
In an IOP, individuals will still have the freedom to go home and be with their families every evening, but they will spend the majority of their day in various kinds of therapy and group programs. Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, clients will learn how to analyze why they became addicted in the first place, and they will gain the tools needed to lead a healthy, sober life.
In a standard outpatient program, clients will still have access to the support and resources they need to pursue recovery, but they will be able to apply the tools they’ve gained to their daily lives. If the addiction started with a prescription for fentanyl, an individual will also use this time to devise a new treatment plan for pain with the help of a qualified doctor.
Confronting abuse and addiction is never easy, but family and friends can help their loved one pursue recovery by offering support and encouragement every step of the way.