The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to report an increasing number of opioid-related deaths, despite the fact that opioids are being prescribed less often. What’s driving the opioid overdose epidemic is illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, drugs that are designed to mimic the effects of the original drug.
But what is fentanyl exactly, and how do medical fentanyl and illicit fentanyl differ from each other? With a changing and worsening drug overdose and death epidemic, it’s important to learn what you can about fentanyl and how to protect yourself and your loved ones.
What is Medical Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, such as during an operation or from advanced-stage cancer. It comes in many different forms like patches, lozenges and nasal sprays.
Medical fentanyl still has a risk for dependency, but the risk is low because it’s being monitored by a medical professional. Patients receive a treatment plan that details how to take the medicine and when to stop, as well as how to reduce the risks of addiction. Most patients are only prescribed this painkiller for a short period of time.
What is Illicit Fentanyl?
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is also a synthetic opioid designed to feel like medical fentanyl. But it’s not quite the same. IMF is illicitly manufactured, often by drug cartels in other countries like China, and distributed through illegal drug markets. It’s often added to other synthetic drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to make them cheaper, stronger and more addictive.
Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common drugs involved in opioid deaths. They are responsible for killing 150 people every day in the United States. Because we cannot taste, smell or see fentanyl, it’s impossible to know how much you’re taking. Fentanyl test strips are available and typically give results in five minutes. However, the test does not detect more potent fentanyl-like drugs like carfentanil.
What Makes Illicit Fentanyl So Dangerous?
Unlike medical fentanyl, illicit fentanyl is not regulated, which is what makes it so dangerous. Illegal drug chemists make these synthetic opioids without any concern for their potency.
On its own, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more concentrated than morphine. Like all opioids, fentanyl is a respiratory depressant that interferes with the ability to breathe. Not only can people misjudge their dose, but also they sometimes combine fentanyl with other respiratory depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines. This significantly increases the risk for overdose and death.
Start Treatment for a Fentanyl Addiction
If you or someone you care about is abusing fentanyl, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Fentanyl is a potent and dangerous drug that doesn’t discriminate. Our treatment center in AZ offers Phase One, Phase Two and Extended Care treatment, which can help you build a healthy foundation that supports a lifelong recovery.