Fentanyl and the Dangers of Recreational Use

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Fentanyl creates generous profits for black market dealers, but it leaves danger in its wake. (designer491/Shutterstock)

Fentanyl creates generous profits for black market dealers, but it leaves danger in its wake. (designer491/Shutterstock)

Like many treatment centers, Amethyst has treated patients who were addicted to a wide variety of illicit substances. From barflies to heroin addicts, we have seen it all. But one of the more troubling developments in the addiction world over recent years has been a rise in the abuse of Schedule II medicinal drugs. We look through addiction statistics and demographics with relative frequency, and we have noted that these drugs have been spreading quite a bit among the less privileged. One drug which appears to be particularly in vogue at the moment is fentanyl.

Many of those who become hooked on drugs such as fentanyl are doctors and other medical professionals whose employment makes it easy to divert medicinal substances for recreational use. However, fentanyl has been used recreationally since the 1970s, and it lately seems to be making it into the hands of more and more heroin dealers. This means that, in addition to those who simply abuse it as a medicine, there are also those who are going out of their way to acquire it when they do not need it at all.

This is an extremely dangerous development in the drug world. Many parents and family members have lost loved ones to fentanyl while the dealers were sitting back and counting their takings. Fentanyl is an incredibly dangerous substance, and even some first-time users have suffered overdose deaths because they did too much with no opioid tolerance to mitigate the drug’s effects. Those who become addicted to the substance are running out a clock that they may not even know exists. But armed with a bit of information and some help from Amethyst Recovery, fentanyl addiction can be fought.

What Is Fentanyl?

For the purposes of this article, it’s important to understand fentanyl and its uses. (designer491/Shutterstock)

For the purposes of this article, it’s important to understand fentanyl and its uses. (designer491/Shutterstock)

Like many medicinal substances that wind up being recreationally abused, fentanyl is meant to treat pain. It comes in a few different forms, and the form used in medical situations is often appropriate to the purpose for which the drug is being administered. For instance, while fentanyl may be administered intravenously when used in anesthesia, it can also be administered through transdermal patches for long-term pain treatment when prescribed as a form of palliative care. Intranasal administration is also sometimes seen in both emergency and palliative care, and lozenges in the shape of lollipops have been used to treat breakthrough pain in cancer patients.

As might be predictable, any of these forms might be found on the black market. Two of the most common forms are normal fentanyl powder for intravenous use and transdermal patches. Some simply cut these patches up and eat them. Others remove the fentanyl gel from the patch in order to smoke it. Lollipops are also fairly common, and actually go for more on the street than they generally cost when administered to patients in need. There are also fentanyl analogues, referred to collectively as China White by the Department of Justice, that sometimes make their way to the black market. China White is considered a Schedule I substance in the United States, the same classification given to heroin.

Fentanyl is used in the military on occasion, but the dangers of addiction in the military and of fentanyl itself have called for some precautions. When used on a patient who is unconscious, for instance, measures must be taken to tell when the drug has been administered effectively and then immediately halt the patient’s exposure. This is because fentanyl is incredibly deadly. For instance, when Spetsnaz forces broke up the Moscow theatre hostage crisis in 2002, the fentanyl-based gas they used to incapacitate perpetrators was found to have killed 130 of the 850 hostages present. Some of these deaths occurred as a result of choking, but many of them occurred simply because there was no medical intervention. In other words, fentanyl is a dangerous substance without proper professionals around to administer it.

We will discuss some of the specific adverse effects of recreational fentanyl use below. Hopefully, these side effects and the information provided above will illustrate just how dangerous this drug can be when recreationally abused. We will then talk a little bit about how we treat fentanyl addiction at Amethyst Recovery, so that you or anyone you know who might be abusing fentanyl call get the necessary help before it is too late.

Dangerous Side Effects

There are many potential side effects of recreational fentanyl use, but one stands out above the others. (Fer Gregory/Shutterstock)

There are many potential side effects of recreational fentanyl use, but one stands out above the others. (Fer Gregory/Shutterstock)

Some of the side effects seen in most other medications are surprisingly tame in fentanyl, despite its potency. For instance, while it does produce some nausea, it isn’t generally that often or that extreme. That said, fentanyl can cause a number of other side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, urinary retention, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, sweating, confusion, sleepwalking, headaches, abdominal pain, dizziness, depression, anxiety, weight loss, anorexia, hypoventilation and hallucinations. Needless to say, some of these symptoms are much more common than others.

While not all of the above symptoms may sound too severe, fentanyl can also cause respiratory depression, which has resulted in multiple deaths. Even worse, there has been no general consensus as to why these respiratory issues occur. There are a few ideas, one of which is that more fentanyl is released into the system through carbon dioxide while patients also experience increased fentanyl release due to acidosis. Some hypotheses suggest that this risk may be stronger in patients who have experienced rapid or significant loss of body fat, such as those with eating disorders or terminal conditions that may result in weight loss.

In some cases, fentanyl has even been associated with aphasia. This is a disorder in which the patient retains their intelligence, but may have trouble remembering certain words. Some patients may altogether lose their ability to speak, as well as to read or write. It can be a very frustrating condition, and generally arises as a result of brain damage. Cases of aphasia related to fentanyl use may not be exceedingly common, but it is still important to understand this risk. Aphasia is not life-threatening, but it definitely has an impact on one’s quality of life.

More than anything, however, the most frightening result of recreational fentanyl use is the risk of death. We already have a major problem with overdose deaths in the United States, and the availability of fentanyl on the black market has done little to help in this regard. Things were especially bad in 2006, when a rash of illegally made fentanyl, which was found to be mixed with heroin and cocaine, caused a number of deaths in the Midwest. Mixing fentanyl and heroin is not uncommon. But as drug users continue to combine these drugs, overdose deaths are likely to keep occurring. The only way for addicts to ensure their survival is simply to stop using.

How We Can Help

Sober living is a refreshing experience, and can help you get your feet back under you. (Dev_Marya/Shutterstock)

Sober living is a refreshing experience, and can help you get your feet back under you. (Dev_Marya/Shutterstock)

At Amethyst Recovery, our staff is well-studied in the needs of addicts recovering from many different substances. As a result, we understand that every individual needs personalized care if they are to thrive in recovery. Those who undergo our full continuum of care will undergo detoxification in order to help mitigate their physical cravings, and the mental/emotional component of their addiction will be handled through a range of services including individual and group therapy, life skills education, and even therapeutic outings on the weekend.

Once patients have graduated from our facility, they will have the opportunity to enter our sober living facilities. At these homes, located near the beautiful Treasure Coast, patients can keep one foot in the shallow end as they readjust themselves to the world and get their feet back underneath them. Family members will likely want this for their patients, as our sober living facilities are now offering monitoring services to help ensure our residents stay sober. It is our experience that patients who are monitored will often stand a much better chance at maintaining their recovery during the first few months, a time period that can be crucial in determining long-term sobriety.

Not only that, but having our patients remain monitored and under our care will aid us in assuring relapse prevention. Monitoring is one of the principles of effective treatment, especially if the patient is required to take pills to treat illness or injury. When patients are monitored in such cases, it will be easier to spot signs that they might be leaning toward old habits. The earliest signs of possible drug use are not surefire signs that a relapse will occur, but it will definitely be much easier to ensure that relapse is avoided when patients are under the supervision of those who are able to recognize the signs of addiction before they spin out of control.

Fentanyl is a dangerous substance when used improperly, and there is no proper method of recreational use. If a person is not given fentanyl by their doctor, they are abusing it. And when a person abuses a drug like fentanyl, they are gambling with death itself. Not only will treatment help fentanyl abusers learn to deal with their addiction, but sober living will help prevent a relapse—and a possible death if the user attempts to use too much while their tolerance is at a low. If you or anyone you know has been abusing fentanyl, contact us immediately. We just might be able to help you save a life.

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