Only a few years ago, fentanyl was relatively unknown outside hospitals. However, in the past few years, overdose deaths from this drug have increased at an alarming rate in the U.S. According to a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl-linked overdoses soared to 93.9% in western states between 2019 and 2020, putting this substance on the leading edge of the ongoing opioid epidemic.
What Makes Fentanyl So Dangerous?
State restrictions limiting the use of prescription opioids have forced many people to seek illegal means of getting the drugs they rely on. Some drug dealers lace their products with fentanyl, which is exponentially more powerful than heroin and morphine. For most people, a dose as small as two milligrams is enough to be fatal.
Because fentanyl is synthetic, it’s usually cheaper and easier to obtain than plant-based drugs like heroin and cocaine. That’s why drug dealers may combine it with other substances, making batches last longer. Fentanyl binds more fully to the brain’s opioid receptors than most other opiates, which is what makes it so addictive. Drug distributors use it to get people hooked more quickly and keep them coming back for increasingly larger doses as their tolerance builds.
Whether sold as a powder or mixed with other substances, illicit fentanyl is driving the sharp increase in overdose deaths related to the drug in recent years. Tragically, people who unknowingly take a fentanyl-laced drug have an increased risk of overdose compared to other opioids.
Why Do People Overdose on Fentanyl?
Like all opioids, fentanyl releases a flood of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which creates a euphoric, relaxing feeling. Simultaneously, it affects the central nervous system, specifically the areas responsible for controlling breathing.
Since fentanyl takes effect so quickly, overdose symptoms like drowsiness, confusion, loss of consciousness and respiratory failure can emerge within minutes of exposure. Per the CDC report, half the people who passed away from a fentanyl overdose had no pulse by the time first responders arrived on the scene.
While it’s possible to safely reverse an opioid overdose with a medication called naloxone, many people do not know about this lifesaving opioid antagonist. Naloxone works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking the effects of opioid drugs, and is designed to be easy for the average person to administer, even with no medical training. If someone you love relies on opioids, ask your doctor or pharmacist where to get naloxone and make sure everyone in your household knows where it is and how to use it.
Get Your Life Back
If you abuse opioids and need help to quit, medically managed detox is the first step in successfully achieving lasting sobriety and rebuilding your life. At Pillars Recovery, we support our clients with a medication-assisted treatment program that combines the use of FDA-approved drugs with professional counseling to help people struggling with an opioid addiction. To learn more about our California substance use programs for men and women and how to get a customized treatment plan to meet your needs, contact us today.