Fentanyl, by far, has become the deadliest drug in America. There’s a good reason why law enforcement officials have taken to calling the drug “manufactured death.”1 Keep reading to learn why.
The American Opioid Crisis: Fueled by Fentanyl
More than 130 people in the U.S. die every day after overdosing on opioids.2 As the opioid crisis in America continues to develop into the foremost public health concern of our time, this article dives into the most fatal perpetrator of the opioid crisis. The rate of overdoses involving fentanyl shot up by about 113% each year from 2013 through 2016. It is now responsible for almost 29% of overdose deaths. In 2016, fentanyl killed almost 2,400 more people than heroin and was responsible for more deaths than cocaine and methamphetamine combined.3
Why Is Fentanyl So Deadly?
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is only approved for treating severe pain, such as advanced cancer pain. It is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges and can easily be diverted for misuse.4 Like heroin, morphine, and other opioids, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors. When opioids bind to these receptors, they increase dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas to produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation. However, fentanyl also brings unintended effects such as drowsiness, nausea, confusion, sedation, tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death.5
These last two facts make it the scariest drug to deal with. Fentanyl may seem highly desirable since it is about 50-100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.6 It is incredibly easy to accidentally become addicted, even for people who only use it as directed by their doctor. To make matters worse, the difference between a therapeutic dose of fentanyl and a deadly dose can be as small as a microgram.7
The Symptoms You Need to Know
Fentanyl overdoses are often deadly and there are only a few hours between overdose and death. Even if you personally don’t use opioids (legally or illegally), knowing the symptoms of overdose may be the difference between life and death for the people around you.
First, if you suspect that someone has overdosed, call 911 right away. Emergency medical professionals can administer naloxone to reverse the deadly effects of an opioid (including fentanyl) overdose. The sooner a person receives naloxone after an opioid overdose, the more likely they will survive the overdose.8
Signs and symptoms that can indicate an opioid overdose include pinpoint pupils, weak muscles, dizziness, confusion, extreme sleepiness, loss of consciousness, profoundly slowed heartbeat, very low blood pressure, dangerously slowed or stopped breathing, and a bluish tint to nails and lips.9
Schick Shadel Hospital provides aversion therapy for opioid addiction. While addictions to other substances might go on for years, people who are addicted to fentanyl or other opioids can’t afford to wait to get treatment. The death toll from opioid addiction is too high to ignore.
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1 The U.S. Opioid Epidemic. (2019). Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-opioid-epidemic
2 Opioid Overdose Crisis. (2019). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
3 Nadia Kounang, C. (2019). Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in America, CDC confirms. CNN. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/12/health/drugs-overdose-fentanyl-study/index.html
4 Fentanyl | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center . (2019). Cdc.gov. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/fentanyl.html
5 Fentanyl. (2016). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
6 Cold, F., Health, E., Disease, H., Disease, L., Management, P., & Conditions, S. et al. (2019). Fentanyl: What You Should Know. WebMD. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20180501/fentanyl-what-you-should-know
7 Fentanyl – Drug Free VA. (2019). Drug Free VA. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://drugfreeva.org/sink-or-swim/drug-facts/prescription-drugs/fentanyl/
8 Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio). (2018). Drugabuse.gov. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/opioid-overdose-reversal-naloxone-narcan-evzio
9 Fentanyl Overdose – DrugAbuse.com. (2017). DrugAbuse.com. Retrieved 18 February 2019, from https://drugabuse.com/fentanyl/overdose/