Fentanyl addiction

The fentanyl crisis has left a trail of devastation across North America, with thousands of lives lost and countless families shattered. Described by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “a public health emergency,” the opioid addiction epidemic has prompted responses from high-profile figures, such as former US President Barack Obama, who said, “More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in car crashes.” Sadly, many of these deaths are now due to fentanyl. Alth-ough the UK has not experienced the same extent of fentanyl addiction, it remains a dangerous and deadly threat to those who become ensnared in its grip and requires immediate professional help to overcome.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used primarily for managing severe pain, often for patients undergoing surgery or experiencing pain related to cancer. The drug is available in various forms, including patches, tablets, lozenges and injectables. On a molecular level, fentanyl works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, increasing dopamine levels and creating a sense of euphoria while simultaneously reducing pain. The drug’s potency is up to 100 times stronger than morphine, making it highly effective for pain relief but also susceptible to abuse.

On the streets, fentanyl is most commonly found and abused in powder form, which can be snorted, injected or mixed with other drugs or is sometimes pressed into counterfeit prescription pills. It is also commonly used to cut substances like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to increase profits for drug dealers. This practice increases the risk of overdose, as users may be unaware of the presence of fentanyl or its potency.

Fentanyl 101: Did you know…?

  • In 2021, there were 54 known deaths due to Fentanyl addiction in the UK and 70,601 deaths in the US.
  • Fentanyl is a Class A drug in the UK which is the highest grade of classification due to its addictive nature.
  • Fentanyl is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and about 50 times more potent than heroin.

What is fentanyl addiction?

Fentanyl addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder which causes sufferers to lose control of their fentanyl use and continue taking it despite it negatively affecting their lives. Due to the potent nature of fentanyl, users can develop an addiction rapidly, often after only a short period of use. Recognising fentanyl addiction signs is not always easy, as the condition will try and convince you there is no issue. This is particularly true if fentanyl was originally taken on prescription, as the symptoms of prescription drug addiction can be mistaken for a genuine need to continue taking the medicine.

Here are some fentanyl addiction signs to beware of:

  • Tolerance: Needing larger doses of fentanyl to achieve the same effect
  • Withdrawal: Experiencing physical and emotional symptoms when stopping or reducing fentanyl use
  • Loss of control: Inability to regulate fentanyl use, leading to excessive consumption
  • Cravings: Intense urges to use fentanyl
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Failing to fulfil personal, professional or social obligations due to fentanyl use
  • Risk-taking: Engaging in dangerous activities to obtain or use fentanyl
  • Continued use despite harm: Persisting in fentanyl use despite negative physical, emotional, or social consequences

How do you become addicted to fentanyl?

Each person’s path to fentanyl addiction can vary, with some people developing an addiction after being prescribed the drug, others using it recreationally, and some self-medicating to cope with physical or emotional pain.

Here are three stories that illustrate different ways people become addicted to fentanyl:

Eva, a 35-year-old woman, was prescribed fentanyl patches to manage her chronic pain after a severe car accident. Over time, she developed a tolerance to the drug and began using higher doses than prescribed. Eventually, she started buying illicit fentanyl to feed her growing addiction.

Alex, a 22-year-old college student, was introduced to fentanyl at a party and began using it recreationally. Unaware of the drug’s potency, Alex quickly became addicted and started prioritising fentanyl use over school, work and relationships.

David, a 45-year-old construction worker, struggled with depression and anxiety for years. Seeking relief, he turned to fentanyl as a means of self-medicating. The drug provided temporary solace, but David soon found himself trapped in the cycle of addiction.

What causes fentanyl addiction?

There are several risk factors that can contribute to fentanyl addiction. While not all individuals with these risk factors will develop a fentanyl addiction, they increase the likelihood of falling into its grasp. Some common risk factors include:

  • Genetics: People with a family history of substance abuse are likelier to develop an addiction, including fentanyl.
  • Exposure to fentanyl: Frequent contact with fentanyl, whether prescribed or illicit, increases the chances of developing a fentanyl addiction.
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders: Those with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be more susceptible to fentanyl addiction as they may use the drug to self-medicate and cope with their emotional pain.
  • Environment: A person’s surroundings, including their social circles and access to fentanyl, can also influence the likelihood of developing an addiction to fentanyl.
  • Age: Younger individuals are often more susceptible to addiction, including to fentanyl, because they are more likely to experiment with drugs.
  • History of substance abuse: Those with a history of abusing other substances may have a higher risk of becoming addicted to fentanyl.
  • Chronic pain: Patients with chronic pain may be prescribed fentanyl for relief and, as a result, may develop a fentanyl addiction due to the drug’s potency and potential for abuse.

How does fentanyl addiction impact health?

Fentanyl addiction can have severe and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. Some of the most common health consequences associated with fentanyl addiction include:

  • Respiratory depression: Fentanyl use can slow down or even stop breathing, leading to potential brain damage or death.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Fentanyl can cause constipation, nausea and vomiting.
  • Weakened immune system: Chronic fentanyl use can weaken the immune system, making people more susceptible to infections.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Fentanyl can cause blood pressure changes, increased heart rate and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Mental health disorders: Prolonged fentanyl use can exacerbate or lead to mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and paranoia.
  • Cognitive impairment: Fentanyl addiction can impair memory, concentration and decision-making abilities.
  • Malnutrition: Fentanyl use can lead to poor appetite and subsequent weight loss, contributing to malnutrition.
  • Increased risk of overdose: With continued use, tolerance develops, leading users to consume higher doses and increasing the risk of a fatal overdose.
  • Increased risk of infection: This is due to needle sharing and risky sexual behaviour while under the influence of fentanyl.

What is fentanyl overdose?

Fentanyl overdose occurs when an individual consumes a dose of the drug that overwhelms the body’s ability to process it, leading to life-threatening symptoms and potentially death. Signs of a fentanyl overdose include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Unresponsiveness or unconsciousness
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Cyanosis (blue or purple tint to lips or fingernails)
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures

If you see anyone exhibiting these signs of fentanyl overdose, seek medical help immediately.

What are the other effects of fentanyl addiction?

In addition to the health consequences, fentanyl addiction can have a profound impact on other aspects of your life, including:

  • Strained relationships: Fentanyl addiction can create tension and mistrust between friends, family members and partners, potentially leading to isolation and the breakdown of important relationships.
  • Financial difficulties: The cost of maintaining a fentanyl addiction can lead to financial instability, debt or even homelessness.
  • Employment issues: Fentanyl addiction can impair your ability to maintain employment, resulting in job loss or difficulty finding new work.
  • Legal troubles: Those struggling with fentanyl addiction may engage in illegal activities to obtain the drug, leading to arrests, imprisonment and a criminal record.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities: Fentanyl addiction often takes precedence over previously enjoyed hobbies and interests, leading to a diminished quality of life.

How can you recover from fentanyl addiction?

Recovery from fentanyl addiction typically involves a combination of the following:

  • Fentanyl detox: Detox manages withdrawal symptoms and keeps you stable as the drug leaves your system. This process is best conducted under medical supervision to ensure safety and comfort.
  • Fentanyl rehab: This offers a comprehensive approach to addressing the underlying factors contributing to fentanyl addiction and aims to equip you with the skills and coping strategies necessary for maintaining long-term sobriety.

How to get help for fentanyl addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl addiction, Oasis Runcorn can provide comprehensive and compassionate care to help you regain control of your life. Our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to providing the highest quality treatment and support to guide you on the path to recovery. Don’t wait any longer; reach out to Oasis Runcorn today and take the first step towards a fentanyl-free future.

Frequently asked questions

Is fentanyl more dangerous than heroin?
There is no one answer to this question, as both substances can be incredibly dangerous. However, fentanyl is often considered more dangerous than heroin due to its significantly higher potency.
How can other prescription opioids lead to fentanyl addiction?
People who take other prescription opioids can quickly develop a tolerance and dependence on these drugs, which can lead to seeking more potent alternatives like fentanyl to achieve the desired effects. Misusing prescription opioids also increases the risk of transitioning to illicit opioids, such as fentanyl, when prescriptions become unavailable or unaffordable.
Why doesn’t the UK have a major fentanyl issue?
The primary reason for the lower prevalence in the UK, compared to the United States, is the difference in opioid prescribing practices, with UK doctors being more conservative in prescribing opioids. However, people are suffering from fentanyl addiction in the UK, and the country must do everything possible to prevent an escalation.