Fentanyl Addiction and Treatment | Drug Dictionary
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Fentanyl Addiction


About Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug and a schedule II prescription drug. It is used by doctors to treat patients with severe pain, post-surgery pain, or chronic pain. Fentanyl is very similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.

When ingested, fentanyl binds to the opioid receptors in the brain that control pain and emotion, increasing dopamine levels and relieving pain. Fentanyl can also create feelings of intense euphoria and relaxation, which increases the risk for misuse. High doses of opioids like fentanyl can also affect the opioid receptors in the brain that control breathing, which could potentially stop a person’s breathing completely and result in death.

When prescribed by a doctor, fentanyl is typically administered in lozenge form, patches, or via injection. Medicinal brand names for Fentanyl include Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Illicit fentanyl that is sold on the streets or online is often produced in illegal laboratories and sold as a powder (sometimes mixed with heroin), tablets, or spiked on blotter paper.

Street Names for Fentanyl

  • China White
  • China Girl
  • Apache
  • Tango
  • Cash
  • Dance Fever
  • Goodfella

About Fentanyl Abuse

Reports from the DEA show that fentanyl abuse has risen in recent years. According to SAMHSA’s 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 11.8 million people (or 4.4 percent of the total population) have an opioid use disorder. An estimated 228,000 of those people are misusing fentanyl.

Fentanyl is extremely addictive, powerful, and dangerous. Since it is remarkably strong, long-term use of prescribed fentanyl can lead to addiction. Recreational use is just as dangerous, especially if a person is unaware that a drug contains fentanyl. In addition, when sold on the street, fentanyl is frequently mixed with heroin or cocaine which increases its potency and further increases the risk of overdose.

Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are a leading influence in the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis and many people who initially get addicted to prescription pain pills transition from those to more potent opioids like heroin and fentanyl.

Emergency responders can use Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses and it is listed on the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines list.

Physical Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

Immediate short-term effects of fentanyl abuse may include:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Overdose

Long-term effects of fentanyl abuse may include:

  • Organ damage
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Overdose
  • Death

What Fentanyl Addiction Looks Like

Several different factors may influence a person’s risk of developing a fentanyl addiction. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Home and social environments
  • Family history of addiction
  • Previous opioid abuse
  • Trauma
  • Being prescribed fentanyl for chronic pain or a certain condition

If you believe that a loved one is addicted to fentanyl, he or she may display some of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Isolating themselves from loved ones
  • Acting lethargic
  • Losing interest in activities that they once enjoyed
  • Experiencing difficulties at work and school
  • Lying, stealing, or engaging in other criminal activities
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Poor decision-making
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety

Fentanyl Detox and Withdrawal

Stopping fentanyl use suddenly will result in uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal, such as:

  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Joint and/or muscle pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

The severity of these symptoms will vary depending on the amount of fentanyl the person was taking before detox, but it is always safest to detox from fentanyl under the supervision of a doctor or at a medical detox center. Often times, to safely achieve a state of sobriety, a person must slowly be weaned off of opioid drugs over a period of time or a doctor must provide opioid-replacement medications, such as methadone.

Medical detox can also help a person achieve sobriety by treating uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and preparing them for the rehab process by providing individual and group therapy.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline

6-12 hours after the last dose: Early symptoms of withdrawal begin to appear. These typically include sweating, runny nose, muscle aches, insomnia, and anxiety.

2 to 4 days after the last dose: Withdrawal symptoms peak and include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.

5 to 7 days after the last dose: Withdrawal symptoms typically begin to fade during this time and will dissipate by the seventh day. Some symptoms may persist for several weeks after detox is complete.

Long-Term Rehab for Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl addiction cannot be overcome only with drug detox. Instead, detox should be followed by a long-term rehab program that will provide behavioral therapy, relapse prevention, life skills, and addiction education.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has concluded that drug treatment programs of 90 days or longer are more likely than 30-day programs to provide better treatment outcomes. Therefore, a long-term rehab program for fentanyl addiction would be the best option for someone seeking to achieve long-term sobriety.

In drug rehab, clients attend individual and group therapy sessions, work through the 12-step program, learn and practice coping strategies, and work with licensed counselors, therapists, and recovery specialists to transition from a life of addiction into a life of sobriety.

High-quality drug and alcohol rehab centers use a variety of behavioral therapies and evidence-based practices to address the root issues of a person’s addiction and modify negative behaviors. Therapeutic strategies will vary based on the client’s circumstances and needs.

Inpatient Drug Rehab vs. Outpatient Drug Rehab

There are two primary types of drug rehab: inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab. Inpatient drug rehab requires that a client lives onsite at the rehab center while completing their addiction treatment program. Communication with the outside world is somewhat limited, but family members and friends may visit their loved one while he or she is in rehab if they wish.

Outpatient drug rehab consists of a series of weekly meetings over the course of several weeks and/or months. Each session is comprised of group discussion and educational lectures covering important recovery topics such as addiction education, relapse prevention, life skills, problem-solving, and much more. This provides greater flexibility for clients who cannot commit to a full 90-day inpatient program due to other obligations such as child care, school, or work.

In both the outpatient and inpatient setting, clients must adhere to the policies and rules set forth by the drug rehab center. This ensures that the treatment setting continues to be a safe, sober, and supportive one at all times.

The cost of drug and alcohol rehab will vary based on the type of program, the rehab location, and whether or not the client decides to use medical benefits to supplement the total cost. Clients may pay for treatment in a variety of ways, including medical benefits, private loans, out-of-pocket payments, and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).

Continued Care Options for Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment does not end after drug rehab is completed—recovery from fentanyl addiction is a lifelong process that will require hard work, dedication, and continual effort. Men and women in recovery can choose to continue their addiction treatment with a transitional housing program or an aftercare program.

Sober Living Programs

Sober living homes are designed to provide clients with a safe and sober living environment in which they can practice living sober independently. Although clients are free to come and go as they please, they must adhere to the community rules, maintain their sobriety, and actively be completing the requirements of their recovery program.

This type of structure provides accountability, peer support, and assistance maintaining sobriety as clients gradually assimilate into a lifestyle of independent recovery. Transitional living programs provide a variety of recovery support services, including:

  • Drug and alcohol testing
  • Personal monitoring programs
  • Recovery programming
  • Comfortable and sober living environment
  • Education and employment assistance
  • Family involvement
  • 12-step program involvement

Depending on the location, the type of sober living home, and the recovery services offered, the cost of a transitional housing program will vary.

Aftercare Programs

Aftercare programs are perfect for drug and alcohol rehab alumni who are seeking additional support during or after their time enrolled in a sober living program. Aftercare consists of a series of weekly meetings that take place in a convenient, clinical location.

Each session provides a safe and supportive space for clients to share current life issues, provide feedback and advice to others, and connect with other sober peers in all stages of recovery.

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