Today, one of the most dangerous drugs people often hear about on the news is fentanyl. Although it is still legally prescribed to some people, many obtain it illegally. One recent trend is rainbow fentanyl, which comes in bright colors and looks like candy. The Drug Enforcement Agency warns that cartels sell this substance to encourage addiction in younger adults and teens.
Some street drugs like heroin may also be laced with fentanyl, which makes them even more dangerous. Also, adding fentanyl to other drugs makes them more potent. It is important to understand fentanyl, its dangers, how to identify addiction signs, and how to treat addiction.
At Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery in Nampa, Idaho, we utilize fentanyl addiction treatment resources to help break the vicious cycle of overdoses and deaths due to this dangerous drug.
Fentanyl is a form of synthetic opioid. The original purpose of the drug was to help treat pain in cancer patients. With its strength and actions, fentanyl’s abuse risk is high. Most of the fentanyl people consume illegally is manufactured clandestinely in Mexico. The drug binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, which help control emotions and pain. In addition to easing pain, fentanyl can cause short-term euphoria. It can also lead to tolerance and addiction. Overdose symptoms are in a later section.
In comparison with morphine, which is a natural opioid, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger. Only a tiny amount can cause serious harm. To provide a comparison, consider individual grains of table salt. It only takes the equivalent of 10 to 15 grains of salt to constitute a lethal dose of fentanyl. A factor that adds to the danger is tolerance.
This happens when a person needs more of the substance to feel the same effects. Since opioids create sensations of rewards or pleasure in the brain, this causes strong cravings. As people take more of the substance, they become dependent and can develop an addiction. All those combined factors make the risk of an overdose high.
Since the drug is heavily pushed on the street and laced with other drugs, those factors add to its dangers. Also, the availability of fentanyl is cause for concern. People often illegally obtain it from street dealers or on the dark web.
Fentanyl can make people extremely happy after they take it, and that turns into irritability when it wears off. These are a few other common side effects:
Some people may be able to recognize if they are abusing opioids. For example, someone who is taking fentanyl with a prescription may wonder if addiction is developing. Loved ones of a person who is taking fentanyl may also be able to identify some signs.
Symptoms of fentanyl or opioid addiction are those that a person feels or experiences. These are some of the symptoms a person taking fentanyl should watch for:
- Feeling the need to take larger or more frequent doses
- Experiencing intense withdrawal without the medication or before the next prescribed dose
- Noticing stronger cravings that become more frequent
- Feeling anxious about waiting for the next dose
- Feeling that it is impossible to stop taking the substance
- Noticing that much time is spent using, obtaining, or recovering from the drug
The last item on that list is how addiction is defined. Even if an addicted person experiences negative effects from a substance, the person is unable to stop taking it. Treatment is important to avoid heightened overdose risks and potential long-term health risks.
Some people who are good at self-reflection may notice signs of fentanyl addiction. However, many people do not notice all the signs in themselves. Colleagues, friends, and loved ones may notice signs in another individual. These are some signs of fentanyl addiction:
- Mood swings and withdrawal from work or social activities
- Taking opioids frequently and making excuses for the frequent doses
- Sleep pattern changes or sleeping a lot
- Taking an opioid without a prescription or using more than prescribed
- Asking for others’ medications or frequently “losing” medication to get more
- Poorer life decisions, new financial trouble, or new legal trouble
- Spends a lot of time obtaining or recovering from using the medication
When a loved one develops a fentanyl addiction, breaking it is challenging. An intervention is necessary in some cases to incentivize a loved one to seek fentanyl addiction treatment. Today, there are professional interventionists who can help people plan impactful and effective intervention strategies.
As part of Idaho’s response to the nationwide opioid crisis, the Idaho Office of Drug Policy developed a strategy called the Idaho Opioid Misuse and Overdose Strategic Plan. According to the 2021 report, which included data collected in 2019, more than 60,000 Idaho residents misused prescription painkillers.
Fentanyl misuse is especially concerning among Idaho’s youth. The report showed that 23% of Idaho teens in 12th grade misused prescription painkillers. Also, more than 40% of them obtained the medication from a family member with or without permission. Despite the many efforts the organization enacts to reduce opioid misuse in the state, a chart on the report shows overdose deaths are rising. From 2015 to 2019, 591 overdose deaths in Idaho were tied to opioids.
Because it takes so little fentanyl to overdose, the risks are always high. Also, the added risk of addiction that often causes people to take more of the drug adds to the dangers. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control reported 91,799 overdose deaths in the United States.
Nearly 75% of those were from opioids. More than 80% of opioid overdoses were from synthetic substances like fentanyl. In 2021, at least 71,000 deaths in the United States occurred specifically from fentanyl or substances containing it.
The symptoms of a fentanyl overdose look different than the side effects. These are some signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose:
- Erratic, shallow, or slow breathing
- Breathing that slows and completely stops
- Looking unusually pale or lifeless
- Abnormally small pupils
- Inability to wake up or extreme lethargy
- Vomiting, choking, or gurgling sounds
- Skin that is cold to the touch
- Either a fast or slow pulse that feels weak
- Bluish tint on fingernails or lips
A person may also be completely unconscious. Even if a person is still breathing and conscious, seek immediate medical attention for a potential overdose. When left untreated, an overdose can lead to coma or death.
How To Help
People who live with a loved one who takes fentanyl or another opioid can obtain naloxone. It is a substance that immediately reverses the effects of opioids. As a result, it can potentially save a person’s life in the event of an overdose. Many insurance plans cover it. As of 2019, Idaho residents can obtain naloxone at a pharmacy without a prescription. This is part of the state’s effort to reduce opioid-related deaths.
For someone who has a family member taking fentanyl with or without a prescription, keeping naloxone on hand is an important proactive step. Immediate treatment is important for someone experiencing an overdose. Even after administering naloxone, it is important to seek prompt medical attention for the individual. Although there are injectable forms of naloxone, there is also a simple-to-use nasal spray.
Fentanyl addiction treatment involves several forms of therapy. Together, therapy types create an effective approach to helping people break the cycle of addiction. There are also multiple structures for therapy.
As the first step, the detox process is important to help people remove the toxins from substances within the body and aim to eliminate cravings for drug use. Since withdrawal is unpleasant and can be dangerous, medical supervision is important. During detox, people receive support and start counseling.
The treatment structure for each person varies based on individual needs. For example, someone who is homeless or has a long history of addiction may benefit more from residential treatment. This structure involves staying in a facility 24/7. Alternatively, someone who has family responsibilities or other needs may benefit more from outpatient treatment. Therapists recommend a plan based on individual needs.
Behavioral therapy often involves cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. CBT helps people learn their triggers or causes for behaviors. As a solution tool, DBT helps them learn how to change behaviors or manage triggers. Facilities often use group therapy and individual therapy. Group therapy helps people support one another, and individual therapy explores specific struggles.
In many cases, an untreated mental health issue is a reason people use substances. Dual diagnosis treatment manages both addiction and mental health issues simultaneously. Without properly treating a mental health problem, a person may be more likely to relapse after addiction treatment.
At Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery, we offer all the treatments discussed earlier. Our goals are to help people detox safely, learn to beat addiction, and stay sober. We equip them with the knowledge and tools necessary to reach those goals. If you or someone you know needs fentanyl addiction treatment in Idaho, please contact us.
Kendall Maloof is the clinical director at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has held multiple leadership roles before settling here at Eagle Creek. Kendall received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2016. Her career in mental and behavioral health began in 2014 when she took up internships in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors. She interned at multiple reputable companies, such as The Living Success Center and 449 Recovery in California.
In 2019, Kendall became the clinical director of Sunsets Recovery for Woman, a dual diagnosis program in southern California. Kendall is a natural leader. She has an incredible ability to problem solve and stay calm in any situation. Kendall never fails to show up when she is needed, and her calm demeanor makes her team and clients feel at ease. Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery is proud to have Kendall as our clinical director.