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What Is Fentanyl?

by Landmark Recovery

June 8, 2018
What will addiction be like in 100 years

Fentanyl is one of the fastest-growing drugs in the world. It is also responsible for the most significant amount of overdose deaths compared to any other singular substance. It is a potent, synthetic opioid that is 50-to-100 times more powerful than morphine. Without the implementation of a drug rehab program for opioid use, an individual is risking their life every time they use fentanyl. While injection typically administers this substance in a palliative matter for patients undergoing surgery, the drug has managed to infiltrate the black market where it can be found in many forms. On average, Fentanyl is sold in a powder form, mixed with heroin, in tablet form, and on blotter paper. On the streets, it carries many nicknames including the following:

  • Apache
  • China Girl
  • China White
  • Dance Fever
  • Friend
  • Goodfella
  • Jackpot
  • Murder 8
  • TNT
  • Tango & Cash

How Does Fentanyl Work?

Fentanyl works in the same manner that opioids derived from poppies do; they bind to opioid receptors in the brain and cause surges in dopamine. The difference is that Fentanyl was developed to contain a higher potency. Opioids are already dangerous because they can shut down your central nervous system thus stopping your organs from working. Fentanyl is an abnormally potent form of the opioid agonist that can cause organ failure in small doses. Fentanyl is hazardous because it can be mixed with other drugs such as cocaine or heroin. If a willing person ingests even the smallest amount of the drug, it could lead to death, unless treated immediately with naloxone.

How Deadly Is Fentanyl?

Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than 50% of opioid deaths last year spanning ten states were directly caused by fentanyl. Fentanyl is extremely fast acting when it binds to the brain’s opioid receptors. Morphine, for example, circulates in the blood and eventually crosses the membrane to the brain cell receptors. Heroin is faster acting than morphine when attaching to the receptors, but fentanyl is lightning fast. This excessive speed and rush to the brain produces a much more intense, euphoric high.

What inhibits the lives of fentanyl users is respiratory depression. Opioids depress brain activity that controls the breathing rate while numbing signals to the diaphragm which expands or contracts the lungs. The drug also dampens the brain’s ability to monitor and respond to carbon dioxide levels in the blood. As a result, you stop breathing and slowly suffocate. The only way to reverse this deadly effect is to take Naloxone. Naloxone moves in to bind with your opioid receptors and block any further opioid connection. It’s a literal boxing match between the naloxone and fentanyl which are fighting for control of your opioid receptors. The dangerous part about fentanyl is that it’s one of the strongest drugs when it comes to latching on to these receptors.

Naloxone is effective, but its success depends on immediate administration at a sufficient level to overwhelm the opioid. A large enough dose can induce some pretty severe side effects, from vomiting to intense muscle pains. An alternate method that shows some promising advantages over naloxone are breathing masks that come with a respiratory stimulant.

One common myth about fentanyl is that just touching it can kill you. This is not entirely true. There are patches that can deliver the substance subdermally, but these are primarily used in clinical settings. Fentanyl needs to enter your bloodstream through either an open wound, swallowing, or mucus membranes. The critical thing to keep in mind is that even a small sprinkle of it can cause immeasurable damage when taken.

Where Does Fentanyl Come From?

Fentanyl was first introduced to the world more than 50 years ago (in 1959) but was not approved by the FDA for prescriptive usage until the 1990’s. The primary source of fentanyl in the U.S. currently is China. According to a report from U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission:

“China is a global source of fentanyl and other illicit substances because the country’s vast chemical and pharmaceutical industries are weakly regulated and poorly monitored. Chinese law enforcement officials have struggled to adequately regulate thousands of chemical and pharmaceutical facilities operating legally and illegally in the country, leading to increased production and export of illicit chemicals and drugs.”

In fact, most of the fentanyl produced in China ultimately winds up in the United States and Canada. In 2015, U.S. border agents seized 200 pounds of the substance. The difficulty in restricting its flow is that it’s so potent that it only needs to be transported in small packages. In fact, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth can easily fit inside a priority mail envelope.

How Fentanyl Could Disrupt the Global Drug Trade

What we do know is that wherever fentanyl goes, destruction quickly follows. In Ohio, for example, fentanyl-laced cocaine is responsible for record-breaking numbers of overdose-related deaths. The changes began in 2015 as deaths related to fentanyl tripled but then leveled out by 2017. The ramifications of this deadly new synthetic drug extended across the United States and into the global drug traders of the world.

One of the reasons fentanyl is such a disruptive drug, besides its potency, is that it doesn’t require a large farming or employee operation to create. Fentanyl, unlike every other opioid, does not require land to be seeded and grown. This eliminates the need for large workforces of people to plant and tend to the crops. Traditional drugs like opium and cocaine require the crops to be processed by hand and packaged, courtesy of workers.

Another reason for excessive distribution is due to the fact that its size makes it easy to smuggle across borders. Its medicinal doses are prescribed in micrograms which makes transferring the product as easy as leaving dust on an envelope.

Looking Towards The Future

Fentanyl, like many abused substances, destroys lives. If you’re struggling with addiction and wish to learn more about residential inpatient treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Landmark Recovery. Addiction destroys the body and weakens the spirit.

Landmark Recovery is a place where people struggling with chemical dependency problems can find answers to the issues that have tormented them for months, years or decades. Our dedicated clinicians, nurses and medical staff will help you or your loved one find solutions that “stick” for a lifetime. We’re waiting to hear from you. Call one of our caring admissions consultants today at 888-448-0302 to find out about our comprehensive treatment program for drug rehab centers.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.