Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid medication prescribed to relieve severe short-term pain. Fentanyl does not "block" pain. Rather, it alters the person’s perception of that pain. Use can also result in a euphoric “high”, making popular as a recreational drug.
Fentanyl is extremely potent – up to 100 times stronger than morphine, and up to 50 times more powerful than pharmaceutical-grade 100% pure heroin.
How Does Fentanyl Kill People?
Like all opioids, fentanyl abuse causes vomiting, so anyone mixing alcohol and fentanyl can literally choke to death on their own vomit.
The biggest hazard comes from fentanyl-induced respiratory arrest. All opioids suppress breathing, and the stronger the opioid is, the greater effect it has on respiration. Fentanyl is so powerful that it does is the size of 6 grains of salt can cause the user to stop breathing.
In 2016, fentanyl-related deaths in the United States were 540% higher than they were three years earlier.
Statistics Tell the Story of Dangerous Opioids
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:
- In 2014 – for the first time ever – drugs were the largest cause of accidental deaths in America, claiming more than 47,000 lives.
- This is over 50% more than car crashes.
- By 2016, the number of drug overdose deaths had risen to 64,000.
- That is a 36% increase just two years
- That means that in 2016, drugs killed more people than the peak years of car crashes (1972), HIV/AIDS (1995), or guns (1993).
- Opioids are involved in approximately 67% of fatal overdoses.
- Every month 4,500,000 Americans use a prescription opioid non-medically.
- Almost TWO MILLION US residents meet the criteria for an Opioid Use Disorder diagnosis.
- Over half of pain medication abusers say that a relative or friend gave them their drugs.
- A quarter get their drugs from a doctor.
5 Factors That Makes Fentanyl so Dangerous
- Availability – Southern California is seeing a huge surge in shipments of cheap, low-grade heroin flowing into this country from Mexico and Asia, and illicit drug manufacturers are finding fentanyl to be a profitable substitute. Heroin requires a huge commitment in land and labor for the cultivation of the opium poppy. Fentanyl, on the other hand, can be made in a lab. Many drug cartels "boost" the quality of their inferior product with potent fentanyl.
- Potency—The difference between a “normal” high from heroin and a deadly overdose from fentanyl can be a matter of nanograms.
- Respiratory Depression—Fentanyl produces longer and worsened respiratory depression than most other opioids. Part of this is due to the way it is absorbed by the body, but also because fentanyl causes less sedation, which is one of the major warning signs of an impending opioid overdose. Lacking that warning sign, a fentanyl abuser can mistakenly believe that it is still safe to take more of the drug, easily leading to an accidental overdose.
- Mislabeling—Many dealers are selling what they represent as pure heroin. In reality, it may have instead been cut—or even completely replaced—with far more dangerous fentanyl. Fentanyl pills can even be presented as other opioids or prescription medications— OxyContin or Xanax, for example. When musical legend Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in April 2016, investigators found counterfeit fentanyl pills mislabeled as Watson 385, what is supposed to be a much-weaker combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone.
There is no easy way for someone given a drug to tell if they have been given fentanyl instead of heroin or some other medication.
- Ineffective Antidotes—In an emergency overdose situation, every second counts – literally, a matter of life-and-death.
When first responders think the drug causing the overdose is heroin, they will administer an amount of Narcan that is INADEQUATE to reverse the powerful effects of fentanyl. Depending on the amount taken, it may necessitate double or perhaps even triple the normal amount of Narcan to save the life of the overdose victim.
The danger is even worse when the substance has been purposefully mislabeled, because the emergency overdose protocols vary between drug classes.
For instance, Xanax overdoses don’t require a Narcan shot. In the critical moments during a fentanyl overdose, a person can die simply because the first responders aren’t aware of the true substance.
What Does All This Mean?
Fentanyl is now the driving force behind the continuing and worsening opioid epidemic. Because the difference between an expected high and an unintentional fatal overdose is so impossibly small, many experts believe fentanyl has overtaken heroin as the most dangerous drug in America.
If you or someone you care about is abusing opioids or any other addictive substance, Teensavers Treatment Centers is the most-trusted drug rehab for teenagers in Southern California. Call today to get the immediate help and support you need.
Teensavers – “Transforming Lives…”