Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith – all names that are synonymous with fame, fortune, and – unfortunately – overdoses. A new dangerously powerful prescription drug called fentanyl is sweeping the country and claiming lives. Everyone is talking about it but, really, what is fentanyl and what makes it so dangerous?
What Exactly is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that has a rapid onset and a short duration of action and is usually prescribed to patients that are dealing with severe pain. It is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. It can be fatal even if taken in small amounts. It’s prescribed to reduce patient’s’ perception of their pain and induces a state of euphoria and extreme relaxation. But Fentanyl has been being used since 1960. It was used as an anesthetic first and nowadays it can be consumed via an injection, a patch or by smoking it.
How Dangerous is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is considered a Schedule 2drug. That means it’s a powerful drug, used for medical treatment but that can cause addiction. Typically, it’s used for pain management in cancer patients. It’s the kind of drug that has a high potential for substance abuse and addiction.
As mentioned, it can be fatal even if taken in small amounts, and accordingly with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s usually mixed with cocaine, heroine or even both when sold illegally. Sometimes the user doesn’t even know about these drug mixes and that makes the consumption even more dangerous.
An overdose of this drug causes severe respiratory depression or even arrest. The person’s breathing slows down or simply stops altogether. One of the most dangerous things about fentanyl is that it’s complicated to find out what should be considered a standard dose. A dose that can provide medicinal pain relief for some people will be lethal for another. Due to this and considering how strong the drug is, this is one of the most dangerous drugs available.
And it’s a highly addictive drug. People who have been treated with opioids for some time, develop some tolerance, meaning the doses need to get higher and higher to achieve the same pain relief. And when doses escalate, this can lead to substance abuse and addiction and, of course, the risks are always higher.
In March 2015 the Drug Enforcement Administration sent an alert about the dangers of fentanyl. At that time, the DEA said that the Mexican authorities had shut down multiple labs that were responsible for some of the fentanyl that was seized in the United States in 2014. According to a New York Times article, fentanyl was becoming a “drug of choice” for cartels.
Cartels had found a way to produce fentanyl cheaply and easily than they were producing heroin. And at that time they were producing the drug at a record pace. This kind of drug is already a dangerous drug when it’s prescribed by a doctor for extreme pain relief. Having it on the streets on the black market is a serious threat and can be a problem for authorities on the near term.
If not stopped soon, Fentanyl can become a new epidemic drug. And if that happens, the consequences for addicts and the society as a whole will be much higher than the current problems society has with heroin and cocaine.