What is Fentanyl? — Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects
A few years ago, the general public had never heard the term fentanyl. But these days, we frequently hear about this drug in regard to the opioid epidemic.
Fentanyl is an opioid prescribed for patients suffering from severe pain. However, it has also grown in popularity for recreational drug usage. Many illegal drugs are laced with fentanyl, and some users even extract the drug from dermal patches to inject it. According to the National Institutes of Health, from 2013 to 2015, overdoses from illegal fentanyl use tripled.
With such dangerous repercussions at such high rates, fentanyl abuse requires swift intervention. If you suspect a loved one may be abusing fentanyl or other drugs, at-home drug tests are readily available to help you identify the issue and get them on track for recovery.
But is fentanyl all bad? Based on news reports and social media posts, you might think that fentanyl has no beneficial uses. However, there are distinct differences between the illicit fentanyl on the black market and what you find in the doctor’s office. So what is fentanyl, and how can it be used safely?
What Is Fentanyl, and Why Is It Prescribed?
Janssen Pharmaceutica first invented fentanyl in 1959. Initially, doctors used fentanyl as a pain reliever and anesthetic. Currently, we use the pharmaceutical fentanyl for the pain management of cancer patients.
Doctors typically administer legal fentanyl using a transdermal patch, though it is also available as a shot or lozenges. Fentanyl is released in small doses, binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. Users experience intense euphoria from the resulting dopamine, inducing feelings of reward, pleasure, and relaxation.
Benefits of Using Fentanyl
Although doctors only prescribe fentanyl in extreme cases, it is safe when taken legally and precisely as prescribed. Healthcare professionals administer transdermal fentanyl to cancer patients or people in severe pain following an acute surgery. The proper use of fentanyl lowers the likelihood that the patient will experience adverse effects. The benefits of fentanyl include:
- A lower incidence of daytime drowsiness, constipation, nausea, and vomiting
- Increased patient satisfaction
- Improved quality of life
Fentanyl and the Opioid Crisis
Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin or morphine and consequently much more addictive. Due to its highly addictive nature, fentanyl plays a significant role in the opioid crisis. It rose to popularity when drug dealers realized that instead of cutting heroin with chemicals that made the drug weaker, they could use fentanyl and make the heroin stronger. The majority of users who take fentanyl believe they are purchasing heroin. Fentanyl is responsible for 82% of heroin-related deaths and 76% of all overdose-related deaths in 2019.
The majority of illicit fentanyl is manufactured in China and smuggled in through Mexico. The availability and use of fentanyl have multiplied in an extremely short period. In 2014, the United States border agents seized 8 pounds of illicit fentanyl. In 2019, they seized 200 pounds of fentanyl, along with other synthetic opioids.
What Precautions Should You Take When Using Fentanyl?
As with any schedule II drug, fentanyl is only safe under the doctor’s supervision. It should only be used at specific times by patients with cancer or in severe pain following surgery. Even under medical care, only use transdermal fentanyl with the utmost precaution. Before taking this medication, consider the following:
Interactions with Other Medications
Some specific prescriptions can be used in conjunction with fentanyl, while others have a dangerous effect. Inform your doctor of all medications you are currently taking to avoid any adverse reactions.
Potential Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions to transdermal fentanyl are infrequent. Alert your healthcare provider immediately if you have experienced allergic reactions to this medication, which may include:
- Itching or swelling of the throat, face, or tongue
- Severe dizziness
- Trouble breathing
It is also essential to let your doctor know if you have ever had an allergic reaction to any other prescription that you’ve taken in the past. In addition, inform your doctor if you are allergic to any animals, dyes, food, or preservatives.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
We do not recommend that patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding use fentanyl.
Currently, no studies show a relationship between old age and the use of fentanyl. Doctors prescribing to older people may make dosage adjustments and recommend increased caution.
Other Health Conditions
Even under medical supervision, fentanyl use can cause adverse reactions in the presence of other health problems. Let your doctor know about your entire medical history before using fentanyl. It may not be wise to take this medication if you have a history of the following medical conditions:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Brain tumors
- COPD or other lung conditions
- Gallbladder disease
Incorrect Dosage or Contents
There are two forms of transdermal fentanyl. The first form goes by the prescription name of Duragesic, and doctors prescribe it to relieve chronic pain. Your healthcare provider will determine the proper dosage based on your current narcotic dose. The Duragesic patch should be applied and left on for 72 hours.
Ionsys is the second form of transdermal fentanyl, and patients use it for short-term pain relief following surgery. The doctor is responsible for determining your dosage and the amount of time you will need to keep the patch in place.
Common Side Effects and Risks When Using Fentanyl
When using transdermal fentanyl, do not touch the gel or sticky part of the patch under any circumstances. Fentanyl is quick to absorb through the eyes and mouth, putting you in a precarious position. If you touch the sticky part of the patch, rinse your hands with water immediately and let your doctor or nurse know. When rinsing, do not use soap.
You may bathe and shower regularly while using the patch, but be careful that the patch doesn’t stick to anyone else during physical contact.
Common side effects of transdermal fentanyl use include:
- Feeling cold
- Excessive sleepiness
- Trouble sleeping
Although illicit fentanyl has a high potential for abuse, transdermal fentanyl is safe when taken as prescribed and under a doctor’s supervision. If you have questions about fentanyl or the effects of any other drugs and supplements, Countrywide Testing can help.
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