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With all the recent opioid deaths, you may wonder why is fentanyl deadlier than heroin?
Out of the opioid family of drugs, fentanyl is the most potent of them all. In fact, when compared with heroin, fentanyl is about 50 times stronger. Ingesting just a tiny amount of fentanyl can prove fatal.
Lately, about half of overdose deaths have involved fentanyl. In most cases in which someone died, they were not aware there was fentanyl in the substance they had purchased. In many of these deaths, it was fentanyl within the heroin supply that caused the fatal outcome.
So why is fentanyl deadlier than heroin? After all, for decades heroin has been thought to be the most dangerous drug on the street. Let’s explore this question further.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a drug that has been around since the 1960s. It has been used to help provide relief for people in severe pain. It is sold under the brand names Subsys, Actiq, Abstral, among others.
The patch version is what is commonly prescribed for late-stage cancer pain management. Fentanyl is 300 times more potent than morphine, which is a natural opioid.
Most doctors do not prescribe long-term use of fentanyl for pain relief. They are actually advised against it. This is due to the many adverse effects that the drug can cause over time.
Because fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, its copies, called analogs, can be concocted in labs and then sold on the street. This has become a serious problem in the U.S., with drug cartels trafficking fentanyl through the southern border.
What Makes Fentanyl Deadlier than Heroin?
Heroin and fentanyl differ in their chemical structures. Due to the speed that fentanyl can get to the opioid receptor in the brain, its effects are quickly launched. Also, fentanyl is able to attach to the receptor more tightly, also giving the drug more potency.
Comparing the amount of heroin versus fentanyl to cause death is also telling. It takes about 10 times the amount of heroin to cause someone’s death compared to fentanyl. That means that while it takes 30 mg of heroin to cause death, it takes only 3 mg of the fentanyl.
Another reason why fentanyl is deadlier than heroin is that it often hides within other drugs of abuse. Someone may have a certain comfort level when using heroin, but they would never touch fentanyl. So, fentanyl becomes more deadly because the person has no knowledge that the heroin they purchased has fentanyl in it.
They go ahead and take the usual dose, which causes the overdose. A growing percentage of the heroin supply is now contaminated with fentanyl. People who are addicted to heroin are truly gambling with their lives every single day.
But heroin isn’t the only drug that contains fentanyl. It has been found in cocaine, MDMA, meth, and fake opioid pills.
Signs of Fentanyl Overdose
When someone ingests fentanyl they may quickly begin to have life-threatening symptoms. The drug suppresses the central nervous system, which leads to respiratory distress. Unless the person is given Narcan, a drug that can reverse the ill effects, they may soon die. Some who do survive will have brain damage from the fentanyl.
Symptoms of fentanyl overdose include:
- Slowed heart rate.
- Slowed breathing rate.
- Bluish lips or nails.
- Profound drowsiness.
- Clammy skin.
- Mental confusion.
- Loss of consciousness.
Do not hesitate to call 911 for help if someone you know shows these signs of a fentanyl overdose. Time is crucial when trying to revive the person with Narcan.
Some people do intentionally use fentanyl for a high. As a Schedule II controlled substance, this drug has a high risk of abuse and addiction. Fentanyl can cause a sense of deep relaxation and also euphoria. This gets recorded as a pleasurable event in the brain’s reward system, which sets the person up for addiction.
Fentanyl can be abused in many ways, such as:
- Used on blotter paper.
- Abuse of the fentanyl patch.
As with other opioids, someone who abuses fentanyl may soon find that they need higher doses to achieve the former effects. As the dosing increases the addiction takes root.
For someone to break free from fentanyl addiction, they must first complete a medical detox. Detox and withdrawal allows the body to clear the drug over a 1-2 week timeframe.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are like other opioids, and include:
- Stomach distress and cramping.
- Muscle pain.
- Teary eyes.
- Loss of appetite.
- High blood pressure.
- Fast heart rate.
Throughout the detox process, the detox provider will provide drugs to help reduce discomfort. There will also be support to help manage the psychological symptoms during detox as well.
Fentanyl Addiction Treatment
Because fentanyl is deadlier than heroin, it is even more important to get help for the addiction itself. This treatment should begin right after the detox is complete. The person will be very vulnerable to relapse otherwise.
Treatment will consist of a range of therapies, along with holistic methods and more. The goal is to engage in behavioral therapy that helps the person make the needed changes. Treatment for fentanyl addiction includes:
- Evidence-based therapies.
- Group therapy.
- Life skills.
- Holistic activities.
- 12-step program or similar.
- Fitness and nutrition.
The time needed in rehab will depend largely on how severe the fentanyl problem is. Using a comprehensive treatment approach it is possible to overcome a fentanyl addiction.
Learning about how fentanyl is deadlier than heroin should cause anyone to stop playing Russian roulette with their life. Now is the time to seek help for an opioid use disorder.
The Treatment Specialist Online Resource for Addiction and Mental Health Information
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource for informative articles on mental health conditions and treatment options for adults, teens, and families. If you or a loved one is using opioids and putting themselves at risk for fentanyl, reach out today. Call The Treatment Specialist at (866) 644-7911.