Signs & Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

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Signs & Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

As one of the strongest opiate drugs available, Fentanyl is used to help patients manage pain after a surgery, injury, or cancer diagnosis. At 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, Fentanyl excels at mitigating breakthrough pain, which occurs when someone who is already taking an opiate experiences temporary bouts of pain. However, since the drug is so strong, medical professionals need to administer it carefully to avoid undesired side effects of Fentanyl and accidental overdoses.

There are multiple brand names for Fentanyl, including Subsys, Onsolis, Lazanda, Fentora, Duragesic, and Abstral. Fentanyl also comes in a number of forms, including a lollipop that a patient sucks on, a patch that a patient wears, a piece of film that a patient dissolves under their tongue, a pill that a patient sticks in their cheek, a nasal spray that a patient can administer, and an injection that a doctor gives to a patient. Each of these different delivery methods is designed to provide effective pain relief for a wide variety of patients in different situations.

While Fentanyl is a wonderful pain management tool for patients in a hospital setting, it can be very dangerous when it is abused. Since the drug is so potent, the difference between a safe dose and a deadly dose is tiny. Even if Fentanyl abuse doesn’t result in death, it can cause a number of troubling and dangerous side effects.

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from this dangerous opiate drug is to learn the signs and symptoms of Fentanyl abuse and addiction.

Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction Statistics

Fentanyl is a very addictive opiate. One of the best ways to fight this insidious enemy is to learn some of the figures about Fentanyl abuse and addiction in the United States.

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found that Fentanyl abuse killed more than 1,000 people in the U.S. between 2005 and 2007.
  • According to the DEA, there are over 12 types of illicit drugs that resemble Fentanyl.
  • The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) Journal found that anesthesiologists and nurses are more likely to abuse Fentanyl than the general public.

Fentanyl abuse can also be a problem among teenagers. Although teens are rarely prescribed the drug, they can still easily become addicted to it by accessing a relative’s prescription. As a result, it’s important to lock up all narcotic prescriptions that are in the home.

Teens can also access Fentanyl by buying it on the street under street names for Fentanyl like “China White” and “Tango.” Fentanyl from these sources is especially dangerous, because it is often mixed with other drugs like cocaine and heroin. Combining these drugs not only increases the pleasurable effects, it also increases the health risks.

Three of the best ways to protect teens from Fentanyl abuse and addiction include talking with them about the dangers of drug abuse, maintaining an open dialogue, and keeping a close eye on prescription drugs in the household. 

Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

Since Fentanyl is an opiate drug, people who take it tend to experience many of the same effects as other opiates. These shared effects include drowsiness, euphoria, lethargy, and mellowness. People who abuse Fentanyl enjoy these feelings, which encourages them to continue taking it.

As people continue abusing Fentanyl, they develop a tolerance. This means that they will need to take more of the drug in order to achieve the same high. Tolerance happens very quickly with Fentanyl. In fact, a person can develop a tolerance to high doses of Fentanyl in as little as a few days. As a result, the dosage that helped someone get high on a Monday might not be enough to accomplish this same effect by Friday.

When someone is abusing Fentanyl, they experience more than just tolerance and the pleasant effects associated with a Fentanyl high. They also tend to experience a variety of unpleasant physical and psychological side effects.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Difficulty Walking
  • Dizziness
  • Dry Mouth
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Hives and Itching
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Muscle Stiffness
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Nightmares
  • Pale Skin
  • Retention of Urine
  • Severe Constipation
  • Shaking
  • Sleepiness
  • Slowed Heart Rate
  • Slurred Speech
  • Sweating
  • Swollen Extremities
  • Vision Problems
  • Weakness
  • Weight Loss

In severe cases, Fentanyl abuse can result in coma or even death. If a person becomes unconscious or stops breathing after taking Fentanyl, it is important to call 9-1-1 as soon as possible. Prompt medical treatment can mean the difference between life and death for someone who is facing a medical emergency due to a fentanyl overdose.

It’s important to realize that Fentanyl interacts with many other drugs. There are 904 drugs, or a total of 4,795 brand name and generic medications, that can interact with Fentanyl. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can even interact with the drug. When someone takes substances that interact with Fentanyl, they are at-risk of low blood pressure, respiratory distress, coma, and death. 

Signs of Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction

Addiction is also a symptom of Fentanyl abuse, because the strong opiate results in dependence, as well as tolerance. When someone is dependent on a substance, they need to continue taking it in order to prevent the onset of unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms. Basically, their body can no longer function normally without the drug.

There are several warning signs that someone has an addiction to Fentanyl. For example, if someone is addicted to Fentanyl, they will have a heightened tolerance to the substance and they will experience Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking it.

There are several other warning signs. If a friend or loved one is experiencing the following psychological warning signs, they may have a Fentanyl addiction.

  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • False Sense of Wellbeing
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Paranoia
  • Personality Changes
  • Social Withdrawal

Other behaviors that suggest a Fentanyl addiction include:

  • Opening a Fentanyl patch to eat the gel beads inside.
  • Warming up a Fentanyl patch to release the drug more quickly.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from Fentanyl use.
  • Showing fear or anxiety at the prospect of being without Fentanyl.
  • Experiencing cravings for Fentanyl.
  • Taking Fentanyl for longer than initially intended.
  • Taking more Fentanyl than before.
  • Trying but being unable to stop taking Fentanyl.
  • Being unable to meet obligations at work, school, or home due to Fentanyl abuse.
  • Continuing to use Fentanyl, even when it causes problems.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when Fentanyl use stops.

Someone with an addiction may also engage in what is known as drug seeking behavior. When a person is addicted to Fentanyl or any other drug, they are often frantic to keep taking it. As a result, they will resort to desperate measures to obtain the substance. Some of these behaviors include doctor shopping, prescription forgery, and theft. Although these behaviors are illegal, people are desperate and they will often do just about anything to feed their addiction.

Certain groups of people are more at-risk of becoming addicted to Fentanyl. Since Fentanyl is administered in many hospitals, individuals who work in healthcare may have easy access to it, and they may be tempted to abuse Fentanyl. Additionally, patients who were initially prescribed Fentanyl for pain management may become physically dependent on the drug, if they don’t take it exactly as prescribed by their doctor.

Recovering from Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction

Although Fentanyl is incredibly addictive when it is abused, it is possible to overcome addiction with the proper treatment. Treatment can occur in a drug rehabilitation center on an inpatient or outpatient basis. For more severe Fentanyl addictions, patients should consider attending an inpatient program. However, before selecting a treatment center, it is important to find out if the center and its professionals are trained and experienced in handling Fentanyl addiction. This type of addiction has a very high relapse rate, so it’s important to find a facility that knows how to help patients recover from an addiction to the drug.

The first step of treatment involves undergoing medically-supervised detoxification, or detox. During this stage of the treatment process, patients stop taking Fentanyl and their bodies begin to cleanse themselves of the substance. Since patients can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Fentanyl, it’s important to find an approach to detox that will minimize these uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms.

Fentanyl is an opiate, so its withdrawal symptoms are very similar to the withdrawal symptoms of other drugs in this class. However, Fentanyl is a strong substance, so its withdrawal symptoms can be much more intense.

Some of the most common Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle Pain
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Runny Rose
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Sweating
  • Watery Eyes
  • Weakness
  • Yawning

The appropriate approach to medical detox will vary for each patient based on a number of factors. The age and overall health of the patient do play an important role in determining the best approach to detox; however, the nature of the patient’s Fentanyl abuse is arguably even more important.

Some people only abuse the drug occasionally, but others use Fentanyl heavily and continuously from the time that they first start taking it. While it is recommended that all patients slowly taper their dose of Fentanyl during detox, it is especially important for people who have engaged in heavy Fentanyl use. If patients in this group try to stop taking Fentanyl all at once, they will experience brutal withdrawal symptoms.

In addition to helping patients wean themselves off of Fentanyl, physicians and other medical professionals who supervise and manage detox can also provide medications to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Certain drugs can reduce psychological symptoms like anxiety, while others can manage physical ones like nausea and vomiting. When a patient receives medical treatment to control their withdrawal symptoms, they are more likely to successfully complete detox and start on the road to long-term recovery.

The next step in the recovery process is starting psychological counseling with a trained drug treatment professional. During counseling, patients will begin by examining the underlying reasons for their Fentanyl abuse. Once these reasons are determined, the therapist will start helping the patient develop life skills and coping strategies to help them manage life and its problems without the use of the fentanyl.

Counseling can occur in a number of settings. Some patients take advantage of one-on-one counseling with a therapist, while others utilize group counseling. Group therapy can occur with other patients who are recovering from an addiction to Fentanyl or other drugs. It can also occur with family members. When group therapy occurs with other patients, it is an excellent opportunity for patients to learn from and support each other. When it occurs with family members, it can help family learn about their role in the patient’s addiction and how they can support their recovery going forward. Some patients find that is helpful to utilize all of these types of therapy.

In addition to medical detox and counseling, ongoing support from treatment professionals and loved ones is critically important. Recovery can be very difficult and it is not always linear. Sometimes, patients will even relapse. In time of trouble and stress, patients need people in their lives who can help them stay and get back on track with their recovery. Many individuals report that having a supportive environment to return to after treatment is one of the most valuable tools in the fight for long-term sobriety.

HARP specializes in treating addiction to a number of substances, including Fentanyl. Our team of caring and compassionate medical professionals and addiction specialists provides medically-supervised detox, comprehensive counseling, support services, and long-term resources to help each client have a comfortable and productive stay at our treatment center before they reenter their life – clean and sober. With help and support, recovery from addiction is possible.

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