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Article Summary

Fentanyl Overdose

Fentanyl is the buzzword for the spreading opioid epidemic that has been sweeping across the United States. A potent painkiller, this drug rose out of obscurity and became implanted in the minds of most Americans by dominating headlines all over the country.

Today, Fentanyl kills without discriminating with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds succumbing to its effects and fatality. However, few people understand what it is as well as its potential for an overdose.

In 2016, it was reported that there were over 64,000 fatalities arising from drug overdose. Of these, 50,000 were as a result of opioids like morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and heroin - among many others. Although these numbers seem excessive, you would be shocked to learn that Fentanyl was responsible for more than 20,000 of these deaths.

In the same way, the number of deaths arising from drug overdose rose by 22 percent from 2015 to 2016 while deaths related to Fentanyl overdose doubled within the same period of time. As such, it is not surprising that the drug has become the vanguard of what could potentially be an unstoppable force of destructiveness.

In spite of its surge in mass media coverage, however, Fentanyl has been in existence since 1960. It was created for use as an opioid treatment for chronic pain. Eventually, researchers discovered that it is 100 times more potent than morphine. It is also more powerful than heroin, the historical king of illicit drugs and narcotics.

With time, people started abusing Fentanyl recreationally. Every year, it continues attracting more users and ruining lives mostly as a result of the increase in fatal overdoses arising from its abuse.

Although most people had never heard of Fentanyl until Prince, the world-renowned musician lost his life after accidentally overdosing on it, these instances of fatal overdose claim thousands of lives every year.

Read on to learn more about Fentanyl and its incidence of overdose:

About Fentanyl

Fentanyl is sold under a variety of brand names, including Sublimaze, Duragesic, and Actiq. It is one of the most powerful synthetic opioids, which is why it is used as an opioid painkiller medication.

However, those who are addicted to this drug or abuse it regularly may increase their risk of an overdose. In 2015, for instance, opioids such as Fentanyl claimed more than 30,000 lives.

As such, it is important to learn how to recognize the basic symptoms of such an overdose since this may help you save your (or a loved one's) life. After that, you might also want to learn about how to get professional treatment for your substance abuse disorder.

Used in its intended form, Fentanyl is effective in the treatment of severe and chronic pain. This is because its pharmaceutical grade variety could be anywhere between 50 to 100 times as potent and powerful as morphine.

On the street, however, versions of this drug are usually mixed heroin which makes them even more potent and - as a direct result - more dangerous. Since the substance is a strong synthetic opiate, you have a higher risk of overdosing on it than if you only abuse less potent opioids.

In almost every case, overdosing on Fentanyl comes with a slew of severe long and short term health consequences. Additionally, misusing this drug will often turn fatal and could cause you to lose your life.

As such, it is vital for anyone using this drug either recreationally or as a medication understand the common signs and symptoms of a Fentanyl overdose. This way, you will be better prepared to immediate action to ensure that the overdose does not lead to fatal outcomes.

Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl

The number of overdose deaths as a result of synthetic opioids (other than methadone but including Fentanyl) nearly doubled from '15 to '16. In 2016, for instance, the number of overdose deaths involving these synthetic opioids (again apart from methadone) was put at about 19,400 in 2016.

Law enforcement officials now report that most of this increase in the instances of synthetic opioid overdose deaths might be as a result of illicitly or illegally manufactured Fentanyl.

The NFLIS (National Forensic Laboratory Information System), for instance, published data showing that seizures and confiscations of the drug increased by about 7 times from 2012 to 2014. In 2014, there were 4585 confiscations of Fentanyl.

These numbers show that there has been a sharp increase in deaths related to Fentanyl, which could be as a direct result of the simultaneous increase in the availability of illicitly manufactured and non-pharmaceutical Fentanyl - and not just from the prescriptions of this drug.

Additionally, more states are reporting over 20 confiscations of the substance every few months. In 2014, for instance, between the months of July and December 18 states reported that they had witnessed 20 or more drug confiscations involving illicitly manufactured Fentanyl.

Fentanyl Uses

In medicine, Fentanyl is mostly used in the management of postoperative and surgical pain, breakthrough cancer pain, and severe chronic pain. The use of this drug is sometimes reserved for treating pain among patients who are opioid tolerant and cannot benefit from less powerful opioid pain relievers. The substance is administered in the form of sublingual sprays, nasal sprays, lollipops or oral lozenges, intravenous solutions, transdermal patches, and tablets.

Since it is so potent, Fentanyl should never be used in the management of short term pain - such as migraine pain, acute pain following a serious injury, and dental pain. This is one of the reasons why doctors are so cautious in prescribing this drug, given its high risk of addiction and abuse as well as for the fear that some patients might start abusing it even in those situations where their prescription (and usage) followed the guidelines recommended.

Fentanyl that comes in the form of transdermal patches is particularly noted for its potential for abuse. This is because some people tend to remove the gel from their transdermal patch and snort, smoke, drink, chew, or inject it. This mode of use is quite dangerous and will significantly increase your risk of suffering an overdose.

Others freeze their patches and cut them into pieces before placing these pieces inside the cheek cavity or under the tongue. Used patches also contain Fentanyl in adequate amounts to present the risk for abuse.

In other instances, people divert pharmaceutical Fentanyl for sale, although most of the supply of this drug that is available on the streets is manufactured illegally. In some cases, Fentanyl analogs and IMF may be mixed with another drug - such as cocaine or heroin - and you might not know that the product you are buying is laced with Fentanyl.

This combination of drugs might amplify the adverse side effects of both substances, leading to a subsequent increase in the risk of abuse, dependence, tolerance, and eventual overdose.

According to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), the highest concentration of overdoses related to Fentanyl occur in those parts of the country where heroin (in its white powdery form) is widely used. The same report showed that over 80% of all seizures of the drug in the country came from Indiana, New Hampshire, Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Ohio.

Signs Of Fentanyl Abuse

NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), states that the high potency of Fentanyl tends to increase the risk of an overdose among other severe symptoms. This is particularly true for people who inject or snort the drug in it powder form or swallow tablets and pills bought on the street without knowing that they contain Fentanyl.

That said, there are some common signs of regular Fentanyl abuse. These sigs include, but are not limited to:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Drug tolerance, where you need more of the drug to achieve the desired effects
  • Drug-seeking behavior, such as forging prescriptions and doctor shopping
  • False sense of happiness and well-being
  • Feelings of relaxation and euphoria
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Respiratory arrest or depression
  • Sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you stop abusing Fentanyl

However, it can also be hard for you to recognize these signs of drug abuse. The best way to tell is by watching out for multiple signs of Fentanyl use - combined with addictive behaviors like active drug-seeking.

Fentanyl Overdose Amounts

Opioids are normally measured in terms of milligrams (mg). For instance, the common fatal dose from morphine - that might cause an overdose - is 200 mg. Fatal Fentanyl overdose, on the other hand, is so highly likely that most traditional measurements have to be updated every few months. This is why researchers tend to refer to this drug in terms of micrograms, which are 1000 times smaller than milligrams.

Therefore, the lethal dose of this substance comes out to about 3 mg (or 3000 micrograms). This is equivalent to about a couple of grains of sand or a small pinch of salt.

Fentanyl is so dangerous that even first responders and police officers tend to put themselves in the way of harm when they decide to respond to suspected incidences of Fentanyl overdose. This is because they might accidentally touch the drug and suffer an overdose.

In recent years, there are even worse variants of the drug on the market today - Carfentanil. This drug is used to tranquilize elephants and is 10000 times as potent as morphine.

Therefore, an amount as small as a single speck of salt or grain of sand is enough to cause a fully grown adult to die immediately. This is just one of the reasons why Fentanyl - as well as its various offshoots - are now regarded as the deadliest of all the opioids.

Understanding Fentanyl Overdose

A single dose of Fentanyl causes instant euphoria. However, this pleasurable effects tends to fade relatively quickly. If you are witnessing an overdose, however, the most common sign would be the lips of the victim, which could turn to a bluish color. Their bodies might also seize up and stay rigid - much in the same way as rigor mortis.

After help arrives, law enforcement officials and EMTs may administer naloxone - a popular anti-overdose substance designed to specifically deal with opioid overdoses. This drug works by blocking the opioid receptors in the CNS (central nervous system). Naloxone is more of a suppressive measure than an active antidote.

Even so, Fentanyl might prove to be unquenchable in the destruction in cause. In most cases, therefore, a single dose of Naloxone might not be enough to deal with a Fentanyl overdose.

In more than 83% of the instances of such an overdose, the victim will require more than one injection of Naloxone before the drug starts taking effect to reverse the signs and symptoms of the Fentanyl overdose.

After stabilization, however, the medical team will continue the treatment in-hospital where they can more easily address any other life-threatening cardiac or breathing issues.

Almost everyone has a mental image of an overdose. These images are usually informed by media representations from films, books, and television. Although the stereotypical image of people with substance use disorders is never pretty, Fentanyl overdoses are a different matter altogether.

Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms

Even if you use Fentanyl as prescribed by your physician, it can still prove dangerous and fatal. In fact, the high risk of overdose means that doctors now only prescribe this drug in the most urgent of cases where the patient is tolerant to the other opiate painkillers and they are suffering from chronic and/or severe pain. After that, the doctor might monitor you closely to ensure your maximum safety and wellness.

When you start taking Fentanyl - either as a medical prescription or recreationally - there are several important factors that you need to be well aware of. For instance, if you use the patch' you need to be careful of rising temperatures because excess heat might cause your patch to release the drug in higher levels - which may accidentally cause an overdose.

Using Fentanyl recreationally, however, tends to be even riskier because it may lead to an instant overdose and sudden death. This is mostly due to the fact that few recreational users are aware of the true potency of the batch they are taking or any interactions that are likely to occur when they mix the drug with other addictive and intoxicating substances - like alcohol.

Understanding the most common signs and symptoms of such an overdose may force you find help - or ensure that you get emergency medical assistance for an overdose victim - in good time.

To this end, there are several physical symptoms that are typical and characteristic of a Fentanyl. These symptoms are easy to observe and understand, especially if you know what you should be looking for.

As always, overdosing on this drug can prove fatal and deadly. As such, it is important that you get emergency medical help immediately if you start suspecting that someone is overdosing on Fentanyl.

Some of the signs and symptoms to look out for include, but are not limited to:

  • Bluish tint to the lips, nails, and extremities
  • Choking sounds
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dangerously slowed breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty speaking, walking, and thinking
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Extremely low blood pressure
  • Frequent fainting spells and nodding off
  • Hypoventilation, also known as slow and shallow breathing
  • Limp body
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pale face
  • Pinpoint pupils (where the size of the pupils is reduced to very tiny black circles located right in the middle of the eye)
  • Profoundly slow heart beats
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Seizures
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Stopped breathing
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Vomiting
  • Weak muscles

The risk of a Fentanyl overdose is particularly high because this drug is sometimes sold as or concealed in other street drugs - such as cocaine and heroin. The other factor that might increase the risk of suffering a fatal overdose is abusing this drug with another intoxicating substances - particularly alcohol, sleeping pills, and benzodiazepines.

As mentioned above, Fentanyl poses unique risks and dangers to medical workers, law enforcement officers, and first responders. This is because it can easily be absorbed through inhalation and the skin. Therefore, just being near this drug - or in close proximity to someone who has used it - might prove to be dangerous.

In the same way, Fentanyl is sometimes mixed in or smuggled with other drugs. This means that it can be quite hard for emergency responders to know if the substance that they are handling also has this drug in it.

The best way to deal with an overdose is to take additional precautions - such as wearing latex gloves and face masks - while handling suspects and patients who might have used Fentanyl. Dogs and canine units also have a high risk of inhaling the substance during a drug check.

That said, in case you come into physical contact with this drug, you should watch out for the following symptoms - which will make themselves manifest in a matter of minutes:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Clammy skin

The effects of a Fentanyl overdose - particularly on your breathing and heart rate - present the highest risk of permanent damage and death. Even if you survive an overdose, these side effects might leave lasting marks on your body and this is why emergency treatment is required. For instance, the respiratory depression you experience may cause hypoxia, which - in its turn - can lead to permanent brain damage.

Risk Factors For Fentanyl Overdose

Since Fentanyl is such an extremely potent substance, it is only prescribed and dosed - and carefully so - by medical professionals. If you abuse it, however, you may use it over and beyond the guidelines of a prescription or even without a physician's recommendation. Of course, this mode of use will only increase your risk of suffering a lethal and fatal overdose.

Some of the behaviors that people who abuse this drug tend to display include, but are not limited to:

  • Using the substances in ways than was originally intended, such as injecting or snorting it
  • Taking the drug more frequently or in higher doses than a prescription calls for
  • Overdosing on the drug
  • Combining it with other drugs, particularly benzodiazepines, stimulants, and alcohol; this may have the direct impact of contradicting or compounding the effects of all abused substances

When you abuse Fentanyl too frequently, however, or in high doses may lead you to build a higher tolerance for it. This means that you will have to start increasing the amounts you take to achieve the same desired effects.

For most opioids, tolerance tends to develop non-uniformly - which may increase the risk of an overdose. For instance, you may start escalating your use of Fentanyl as a result of your tolerance building up to its effects on euphoria and pain relief. By so doing, however, you will also heighten your risk of suffering some of the effects of an overdose that are not directly influenced by tolerance - including respiratory depression.

Apart from the dangers that are posed by the differences in the development of tolerance, you might abstain from the drug for an extended time period before you relapse. This situation might have caused your tolerance for Fentanyl to drop.

Therefore, when you start taking the drug in the same dose that you used to when you stopped abusing it, the risk of an overdose will most certainly go up. This is because Fentanyl may overwhelm your system.

Fentanyl Overdose Complications

In general, overdosing on an opioid drug tends to be quite dangerous. However, this is a real problem affecting many people across the United States. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that over 1000 individuals are treated on a daily basis in emergency departments around the country as a direct result of prescription opioid abuse.

Although you can recover fully after overdosing on Fentanyl (with the right help and care, of course), you may also end up suffering certain effects over the long term, which may contribute to your ill health.

For starters, Fentanyl works by slowing down both the circulatory and respiratory systems. Therefore, when too much of it hits your body, it will significantly reduce the overall amount of oxygen in your blood.

When the brain does not get enough oxygen, it may become hypoxic, which is why a Fentanyl overdose can cause permanent brain damage. The long term effects of this condition (hypoxia) are impossible to predict when you are still unresponsive.

However, the general rule of thumb is that the longer your brain stays without oxygen in adequate amounts, the greater the potential for long term damage. Additionally, the outcomes of your recovery will mostly depend on the part of your brain that was oxygen deprived as well as how long it will take for the levels of oxygen to be properly restored.

In the same way, hypoxic brain injuries might impair the following:

  • Balance
  • Concentration
  • Coordination
  • Memory
  • Movement
  • Senses, such as vision and hearing
  • Written and verbal communication skills

To this end, you can probably see just how incredibly dangerous it can be to overdose on Fentanyl. Similarly, it might be scary for you when you witness someone you love abusing the substances.

In some cases, however, an overdose might spark the change that someone suffering from intense addiction to Fentanyl needs to go through for them to decide that the time has come for them to start seeking treatment for their addiction and to kick the habit once and for all. In fact, most people recovering from such an overdose take it as the much needed wake-up call that compels them to get treatment and sign up for full time inpatient rehabilitation.

Dealing With Fentanyl Overdose

The most important step - which should also be the first thing you do - you need to take when you suspect that someone is (or you are) overdosing on Fentanyl it to call for emergency medical assistance immediately through 911.

The medical professionals and first responders might minimize most (if not all) of the damage that such an overdose can cause. They may also end up saving the life of the overdose victim.

However, even as you continue waiting for the emergency medical crew to get to you, you should supervise the victim closely and take note of their condition and development for later reporting to the emergency medical first responders.

If at all possible, you should never leave someone who is overdosing on their own. Instead, you should keep them awake and in the upright seating position to ensure that they do not choke on their own vomit.

During the call you make to 911, you should inform the people who respond about the situation. If you are overdosing, you should also try as hard as you can to stay conscious - at least for as long as they arrive.

In the same way, you should sit upright if you can. However, if you find this extremely hard to do, you should lay down on one side and continue waiting until the emergency crew comes and takes you to hospital so that you can receive more intensive treatment.

After the medical team arrives, the victim - or you - will generally be monitored carefully for all irregularities in their body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. The case might also require the team to use Naloxone, a medication that works by blocking the opioid receptors that take up Fentanyl. This may stop some - if not all - of the dangerous effects of the overdose.

Over and above everything, try and remember that overdosing on Fentanyl is quite dangerous. The best thing you can do, therefore, is to seek medical treatment immediately to ensure you minimize or eliminate all associated risks.

Of course, the best way to ensure that you never overdose on this drug is by not using it or going for rehabilitation in case you already have a Fentanyl abuse problem at the earliest opportunity.

Treatment For Fentanyl Overdose

Treatment for this kind of overdose ought to begin as soon as you notice that an overdose is underway. In case you overdosed because of a lozenge or patch, the first thing you should do is to remove all the remaining drug to ensure that you do not reinforce or add to the amount that has already been absorbed into your system. After that, the medical professionals who see you will treat the drug in the same way they would treat a case of poisoning.

Depending on when you last took the drug, therefore, your stomach might be pumped. This procedure is designed to remove as much of the Fentanyl as possible to ensure that the bloodstream does not absorb more of it.

On the other hand, you might get activated charcoal to counteract most of the signs and symptoms of the Fentanyl that are already present. The activated charcoal can also prove useful in preventing further damage as a result of an increase in the absorption of the substance by the body.

Preventing Fentanyl Overdose

You can prevent a Fentanyl Overdose. The best way to do this is by going for rehabilitation and treatment for your Fentanyl use disorder. By so doing, you will get the professional help you need to deal with your abuse and addiction problem. These treatments can also help you overcome your problem through therapy, relapse prevention skills, counseling, and intensive drug education.

Today, there are many different types of treatment programs that a Fentanyl addict or user can benefit from. Most of them are designed in such a way that they will fit in perfectly with your individual recovery needs and requirements.

For instance, some of these programs may specialize in treatment for certain populations - such as particular substances of abuse, incomes, sexual orientations, genders, and ages.

The most common program options for treating and preventing Fentanyl overdose include:

  • Inpatient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Self-help groups, like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and other 12 step and non-12 step groups

Over and above everything else, a Fentanyl overdose can be treated or even prevented from happening in the first place. As always, it is never too late for you to get help if you have a problem abusing this drug or if you are addicted to it. In fact, the earlier you do so, the less likely it will be that you will end up suffering an overdose episode.








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