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The Dangers of Fentanyl: Facts on This Deadly Drug

The Dangers of Fentanyl

While heroin and cocaine may take center stage when it comes to the world's most dangerous drugs, fentanyl can overshadow all of them in terms of addictiveness and lethality. It's quickly changing the course of drug policy in many parts of the world.

So what is fentanyl, why is it so dangerous, and how much fentanyl is fatal? We’ll answer these critical questions and provide tips for how to combat an addiction.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic that helps with pain relief, mostly in chronic sufferers or cancer patients. Like morphine or any other opioid, fentanyl works by attaching to the brain’s opioid receptors that regulate pain and emotions.

In moderate amounts, fentanyl has accepted medical uses. It was first used as an intravenous anesthetic in the 1960s, and it slowly evolved into a potent pain relief drug in the 1990s.

Fentanyl is commonly given as an injection in a hospital setting. However, it can also be administered as a patch, such as the Actiq and Duragesic brand pain relief patches.

Just how strong is fentanyl? It's capable of extreme pain relief in just a matter of minutes. Its speed and effectiveness are some of the main advantages of fentanyl.

Unfortunately, the dangers of fentanyl are very real, as it's highly addictive and fatal in high doses.

Fentanyl vs. Heroin - Is Fentanyl an Opioid?

Fentanyl belongs to the same family of opioids as heroin. However, even if they have the same function, the two drugs behave slightly differently. It’s because of the fentanyl structure that varies from that of heroin.

The unique chemical make-up of fentanyl makes it bind to receptors much faster and more tightly. 

In other words, when comparing heroin vs. fentanyl, the latter takes effect much faster and needs a lower dose than the former. It can also give a much bigger feeling of euphoria than other types of opioids.

This considerable difference in dosage and potency is one of the biggest dangers of fentanyl use. Most who abuse the drug as a substitute for heroin have a more significant risk of overdose and death.

The Dangers of Fentanyl

So why is fentanyl so deadly compared to other opioids? It’s the combination of potency and addictiveness that give this drug its lethality.

Fentanyl needs a lower dose for it to be effective in the body, which means there’s a higher risk of overdosing. The euphoric feeling it gives due to the dopamine release is highly addicting to users. 

As the person becomes dependent on the drug, the body tends to develop a resistance to not just fentanyl, but other opioids as well. If the person tries to stop using fentanyl, it usually triggers withdrawal responses. These include anxiety, aggression, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. To relieve these symptoms, victims often return to fentanyl.

This forms a vicious cycle, one that eventually leads to a fatal overdose. That's because it affects the receptors not only in the pain and emotion areas of the brain, but also in the parts of the brain that control breathing. 

But how much fentanyl is lethal? Just a 2-milligram dose can kill an adult. Compare that to heroin, which has a fatal dosage of 30 milligrams.

Fentanyl Deaths on the Rise

Fentanyl is beginning to become a severe drug problem that rivals even heroin and cocaine. From 2015 to 2016, the number of fentanyl-related deaths have more than doubled and continued to rise by 540% in the succeeding years. 

However, the majority of deaths are due to synthetic—rather than prescription—grade fentanyl. The artificial kind is illegally manufactured and is not fit at all for medical use. It's usually sold in the streets mixed in with heroin or masked as a painkiller.

The overall death rate from synthetic opioids (including fentanyl) stood at 31,000 in 2018 alone and continues to rise.

Combatting Fentanyl Overdoses

Like any drug problem, treating fentanyl overdose is difficult but not impossible.

For victims, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the use of naloxone. It's a safe and effective cure for most opioid overdoses. It can be easily acquired by law enforcement or concerned family members. In the case of fentanyl’s higher potency, an elevated dose of naloxone might be required.

The best way of treating fentanyl overdose, however, is preventing it entirely. It requires rapid testing and detection by local government units of any suspected fentanyl outbreaks. Hospitals and examiners should also screen for fentanyl overdoses to be able to report cases to law enforcement accurately.

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