The opioid epidemic is rampant in all parts of the country; there is no demographic that is not affected by it. More and more people are dying from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers like fentanyl. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most recent dramatic increase follows the pattern that has been going on since 1999 when prescription opioids became ubiquitous in the United States. In the last 16 years, there have been nearly 200,000 deaths caused by overdoses related to prescription opioids, and deaths associated specifically with the drug fentanyl, are definitely on the rise.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller that is similar to other opioids like morphine, OxyContin, and even heroin, but it is much more powerful. It is typically used during and following surgery for pain relief, or for the severe breakthrough pain associated with cancer. It has a shorter half-life than other pain medications, working by inhibiting the pain pathways to the brain from the location of the pain. It isn’t like over-the-counter pain medications or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which generally affect the peripheral or local site of pain.
Fentanyl is administered in various ways including as an intravenous injection, a patch that is placed on the skin, a tablet that is dissolved between the cheek and gums, a lollipop or lozenge, and as a mouth spray.
Fentanyl is Dangerous and Addictive when Abused
Fentanyl has a high potential for abuse due to the euphoric effects and pleasurable sedation that it causes. It is commonly abused when users attempt to numb the emotional pain with a rush of pleasure and a high feeling. Continued use causes the opioid receptors in the brain to crave repeated use.
When a person begins abusing fentanyl, they will become increasingly tolerant to the drug. That means that they will need to take more and more of it to get the same effect. Additionally, they will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms if they decrease or stop taking fentanyl. Because of these two factors, fentanyl abuse can cause a person to escalate from wanting the drug to needing it to feel normal very quickly.
Fentanyl is very powerful – about 100 times more potent than morphine – and it can greatly depress breathing. Overdoses that result from fentanyl are caused by respiratory failure. Research shows that women are more likely than men to become addicted to fentanyl because they are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic pain and prescribed the medication and end up taking it longer than it was originally prescribed. Adolescents and young adults are also among the highest fentanyl abusers, typically getting access to the medication from friends or relatives.
Many people who become addicted to fentanyl do so innocently when they are prescribed the medication for a legitimate reason. Unfortunately, due to the highly addictive nature of the drug, they start using more and quickly become dependent on it. When the high that is achieved with fentanyl becomes a daily occurrence, it’s important to watch for possible signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse and addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction
Building up a tolerance to fentanyl is one of the first signs of addiction, as is suffering withdrawal sickness when the drug is stopped or doses are decreased. Some of the other, outward, signs of addiction are:
- Extreme euphoria and relaxation
- Sense of well-being
- Dizziness and confusion
- Drowsiness or sedation
- Upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting
- Drug-seeking behavior, or doctor shopping
- Decline in activity
- Problems sleeping
- Increasing conflicts in relationships
- Reporting pain medication prescriptions as lost or stolen
- Frequent early renewal requests from pharmacists
- Increasing complaints of pain
- Reluctance to try non-opioid pain medications for pain
- Requesting other prescriptions for medications with euphoric effects
- Respiratory arrest
It can sometimes be challenging to identify a loved one’s behavior as fentanyl abuse, but if there are several of the above signs and symptoms present, it may indicate that abuse is occurring.
How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in the Body?
This question’s answer has many factors involved. How long it takes for the body to rid itself of fentanyl depends on:
- Amount of fentanyl taken
- How the fentanyl was administered (patch, injection, lozenges, etc.)
- Length of time fentanyl has been used
- Genetic makeup of the user
- Overall health of the user
- History of drug use of the user
If fentanyl is used intravenously, it will be out of the system faster than if it’s used in the patch or lozenge forms. IV fentanyl is usually out of the body within 24 hours, depending on the other factors. Other methods of administration can take up to about two days for the body to get rid of fentanyl. However, that doesn’t mean that the withdrawal symptoms will be gone that quickly. Those can last much longer as the body works to recalibrate itself without fentanyl in its system.
What is Detox from Fentanyl Like?
Like any other opioid, the detox from fentanyl is not comfortable or pleasant. It is also not always safe to do without medical supervision. The effects of withdrawal typically begin within about 24 hours from the last use and the symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable. Some of the withdrawal symptoms are:
- Chills and fever
- Severe nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramping
- Trouble sleeping
- Body aches
- Anxiety and panic attacks
It’s recommended that detox from fentanyl is done in a medically-supervised detox facility. Not only is it safer should symptoms become severe, it can also be much more comfortable as there are medications that can be given to help manage the symptoms.
Finding the Best Inpatient Rehab for Fentanyl Addiction
Choosing a rehabilitation facility for fentanyl addiction treatment should be done with the same careful consideration that you use to choose a doctor or a hospital. When you choose the right rehab facility, it makes all the difference in the whole process. Here are some important considerations to look at when choosing an inpatient rehab for fentanyl addiction:
Reputation. To find out the reputation that a rehab facility has, it takes some research. You can easily do some online searches to see what former clients and their families have to say about the facility. It’s important that you find a facility that has a good reputation with both patients and medical professionals. When you find one whose reputation you are happy with, and that has a track-record of satisfied patients who are in long-term recovery, it should make your short list of choices.
Respect. Every patient (regardless of whether they are treated in a hospital for an illness, or in a rehab facility for an addiction) should be treated with respect and should have a say in what their treatment is and how it is administered. That means that your wishes should be carefully considered by the facility staff. For example, if you would like to detox without the use of prescription medication, that desire should be evaluated by your doctor and if it is medically feasible and safe, it should be carried out.
Location. Where the facility is located is worth taking the time to consider. Is it close enough to home that your friends and family can come visit you? Is it in a safe area where you will feel at ease? Is the aesthetics of the surrounding area important to you? The more calm, relaxing, and secure it is, the lower your stress and anxiety will be.
Qualifications of medical professionals. All of the medical staff at the facility you choose should be encouraging, professional, and have the proper credentials. When you take a tour of the facility, don’t be afraid to ask about the qualifications of the doctors, nurses, therapists, and other staff. They should be willing to answer all of your questions without hesitation.
Comfort. Whatever your decision is about the rehab you go to, the facility, program, and staff should be tailored to the needs of people needing treatment for fentanyl addiction. That means that in addition to monitoring withdrawal symptoms, the facility should provide such things as nutritious meals, 24/7 support, and complementary therapies. Patients should be comfortable in private, or semi-private rooms. Also in the area of comfort, patients should feel comfortable with and welcomed by the staff.
Use of medications. There are some specific medications that can be used in detox to make patients more comfortable, and withdrawal symptoms more manageable. For example, buprenorphine is often used for withdrawal from opioid drugs like fentanyl. Other medications may also be used such as anti-nausea medication and over-the-counter pain relievers. Many people who seek help for fentanyl addiction are also diagnosed with co-occurring mental disorders or illnesses like depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. Those patients may be prescribed medication to help with those conditions. Make sure that the facility you choose adheres to the use of medication philosophy that you subscribe to.
Payment options. One of the most common reasons that people with addiction problems don’t seek help is the cost of treatment. However, most rehab facilities do accept insurance and in many instances, insurance does cover at least a portion of the cost. Be sure to see if the facility you are interested in accepts your insurance. You can also check to see if they will accept payment plans for the balance that insurance doesn’t cover, so you don’t have to come up with a large sum of money all at once.
Realistic promises. There is no quick fix of addiction. Detox and rehab facilities that promise a “cure” or a “full recovery” from addiction should be avoided like the plague. Likewise, detox centers that offer “rapid detox” should also be considered suspect. The rehabilitation process should not be rushed, and the process should focus on true recovery and that takes time. The program should enlist evidence-based treatments and integrate the potential for relapse over the course of recovery.
Recovery for Fentanyl Addiction is Possible
Fentanyl addiction is treatable and it is possible to recover from it. Inpatient rehabilitation is typically recommended over outpatient treatment for fentanyl addiction, and ongoing and consistent treatment of some kind is often necessary for fentanyl addictions.
If you or a loved one are using fentanyl and have overdosed or you are concerned that you may be addicted, seek help now to begin recovering. The first step to recovery is asking for help.