It wasn’t long ago that people thought that those who abuse drugs only used illegal drugs and not prescription medications. As more doctors began prescribing painkillers, the number of people addicted to those substances increased. A recent seizure of fentanyl indicates a growing problem with this drug in the United States. It’s important to learn more about this substance and the dangers of using it.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Originally created as a type of painkiller for cancer patients, it provided those individuals with some relief. The traditional way to use the medication is through a patch. This patch comes with instructions that let users know how often they can use the patch and what side effects can occur. Users remove the patch from the paper backing and apply it directly to the skin. It is also available in a white powder, which some drug makers mix with heroin. It’s possible that a heroin user might inject or snort fentanyl without knowing it, which can lead to an addiction to the drug.
Does It Have Any Other Names?
Few users call this drug fentanyl. They may know it by some of its street names such as Tango & Cash, which dealers choose because it mixes two different drugs. It also goes by other names, including He-Man because it makes users feel stronger and China Girl because of the Chinese-made heroin used in its mixture. Other names can include:
- China Town
- Dance Fever
- Great Bear
Dealers may use some of these names to refer to different mixtures. Some mixtures contain a higher dose of heroin than others.
What Are the Effects of the Drug?
The main reason users abuse the drug is because of the way it makes them feel. Cancer patients often find that it alleviates the pain caused by the condition as well as the pain they experience because of chemotherapy and other treatments. The euphoric feelings fentanyl provides can help users escape from their everyday lives. Many people develop an addiction because they attempt to recreate that feeling later. As their tolerance to the drug builds up, they have a difficult time getting any relief from the drug. Those prescribed the medication may unwisely use it in combination with other painkillers.
Are There Any Side Effects to the Medication?
Doctors who prescribe fentanyl will provide their patients with a list of potential side effects. Those effects can include drowsiness or an increased feeling of sleepiness. Some users may find that they “nod off” after taking the drug or that they need to take a nap later. It can also cause heartburn in some users that require medications to treat and swelling of the extremities. Other side effects can include nightmares, back and chest pain, dry mouth and seizures.
Allergic and Other Bad Reactions
The ingredients used in this drug can cause a serious reaction in some users. In extreme situations, users will want to seek medical help. They can call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Signs of a bad reaction can include a rapid heartbeat, intense itching, swelling of the throat and dizziness. Anyone experiencing extreme side effects should seek medical help. This includes those who use a heroin mix. Doctors can look for the signs of an overdose and provide help. If you suspect you or a loved one of having an overdose, don’t be afraid to call for help.
Signs of an Overdose
The signs of an overdose can closely mimic some of the signs of an allergic reaction, which is why many people do not call for help. If you are so tired that you have issues focusing on one thing or even keeping your eyes open, it could indicate an overdose. Another sign of an overdose is confused thoughts. You may find that you can’t remember the names of the people around you or how to do simple tasks. Some of the other signs of an overdose can include shallow breaths or difficulty breathing, dizziness and dilated pupils.
How Do Doctors Treat an Overdose?
Naloxone is the most common treatment for an overdose because of how quickly it works. This is a type of medication that essentially stops the receptors in the brain from absorbing the fentanyl. It will stop your body from feeling the effects of the drug and stop the drug from wreaking havoc on your system. Naloxone usually works best when administered quickly after the first sign of an overdose. Paramedics can administer the first dose before you get to the hospital. The doctor may give you several doses later to reduce the effect of the drug.
Port of Philadelphia Seizure
Law enforcement professionals working in Pennsylvania seized $1.7 million worth of fentanyl in January 2019. This represents one of the largest seizures of an illegal drug in history. United States Custom and Border Protection officials conducted a routine examination of a container shipped from China. In addition to the expected iron oxide inside, they also found 110 pounds of the illegal drug. A dog working for the government agency alerted officials to the presence of the drug. In an official press release, U.S. Custom and Border Protection announced that the seizure indicates an increase in the presence of illegal drugs making their way into the country.
Increase in Overall Seizures
Though some American citizens believe that illegal drugs come from Mexico, the fentanyl seized by officers in Philadelphia shows that the drug can come from other countries. This was just one seizure found in a container from China. CBP officials began tracking the drug in 2016 and reported seizures of 440 pounds across the entire country. The most recent seizure represents 25 percent of the total amount seized in the previous year. Officials reported a slight increase from 2016 to 2017 and then from 2017 to 2018. The seizure at the Port of Philadelphia signals a likely increase in the number of drugs seized in 2019 too.
Why Is Fentanyl Such a Problem?
When a drug user seeks out a dealer, they have some idea of what to buy. They might look for heroin or a prescription drug such as Oxycodone. Those who use heroin may have no idea that they are using more than just that drug, however. Dealers and manufacturers use fentanyl for a few reasons but mainly because it helps create an addiction. Those who use the mixture feel better than they did before and are more likely to buy that same mixture again.
It’s also a popular substance because of its overall strength and because of how easily others can make it. Depending on how they store it, it may be almost undetectable to drug-sniffing dogs. Manufacturers often store it in containers that also store odorous substances that hide the smell. In the Port of Philadelphia seizure, CBP officials put the substance through several tests to determine that it was the illegal drug.
A rise in Overdoses and Deaths
The number of people who suffer overdoses and die because of their illegal drug use is on the rise. One report found that the number of fentanyl overdoses and deaths increased significantly in 2016 in Northern California alone. The northern half of the state reported 12 deaths and nearly 50 overdoses from the drug in the first three months of 2016. Philadelphia officials reported an increase of 300 percent in the number of people who died as the result of their use and abuse of the drug between 2013 and 2014. It seems likely that these figures will only continue to rise in the coming years.
600 Percent Increase
While the reports in Philadelphia and California are important, it’s also important to look at national statistics. Those statistics indicate a 600 percent increase in fentanyl overdose deaths across the United States. The rates are especially high in both Florida and Illinois. Cook County, Illinois, which includes the major metropolitan area around Chicago, saw an increase in the number of deaths to this drug of more than 2,700 times in a single year. Orange County, Florida, also saw a steep increase in the number of overdoses attributed to this drug.
A Midwestern Problem Too
Small states are not immune from this addiction. A growing number of people across the Midwest now use and abuse the drug. Columbus, the capital of Ohio, saw an increase in overdoses attributed to this drug rise from just 13 in 2014 to more than 110 in 2016. Part of this increase relies on the users seeking alternatives to prescription painkillers. Ohio was once home to many clinics that made it easy for users to get cheap access to prescription drugs. When laws shut down those clinics, users turned to other drugs. Similar states reported increases in the number of overdoses and deaths caused by this drug.
One issue that led to an increase in the number of fentanyl deaths is the tolerance that users develop. Those who abuse the drug can take a small dose the first time, but they will not feel the same euphoric high when they take the same size dose later. As they increase the amount that they take, their bodies develop a threshold or a tolerance to the amount that they need. Another issue occurs when users experience withdrawal at home and without support. They are more likely to begin using again. If they relapse after a period of not using and take the same dose that they did before, they have an increased risk of suffering an overdose because they no longer have the same tolerance.
As fentanyl is a controlled substance, those caught with the drug on their bodies could face jail time and other penalties. Those penalties can increase based on the circumstances surrounding the drug use. For example, dealers can face murder and manslaughter charges if they sell the drug to someone who dies of an overdose.
One company based out of Canada hopes to help users avoid this drug with new test strips. These strips can detect trace amounts of fentanyl in any drug or mixture. Heroin users and those who use similar street and recreational drugs can now use the strips to test substances before they use them. Those strips cannot help users recover from the addictions they have, however. The only way those users can get help is when they seek out those who can support them. A growing number of people now check into drug rehab centers because they want to recover from addictions to prescription medications.
If you have concerns about yourself or a loved one, you can look for the symptoms of this addiction. Those symptoms can include significant neurological changes such as forgetting the names of loved ones and having issues engaging in hobbies or doing work. Some users also experience an increased tolerance to the drug and will go to great lengths to secure it, including stealing from their loved ones and engaging in risky behaviors. These are warning signs that a user needs professional help to overcome an addiction.
No matter how helpless you feel, there is light ahead. Inpatient or outpatient treatment can help you recover from fentanyl abuse and addiction.