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5 Things You Didn't Know About Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that has claimed thousands of lives each year. Its rise to infamy stems from its staggering power and some even more formidable.


This effectiveness, while a boon in medical settings for managing severe pain, has become a curse in the hands of illicit drug manufacturers. Sadly, the substance is often added to other drugs, amplifying the negative effects.


In this blog, we aim to expose the lesser-known aspects of fentanyl, from its origins, its impact on the opioid crisis, and the challenges it further presents. By shedding light on this often misunderstood substance, we hope to increase awareness and promote informed discussions on how to address this pressing issue.


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Source: Cielo Treatment Center

Fentanyl: The Synthetic Opioid


Originally developed in the 1960s by Belgian chemist Dr. Paul Janssen, fentanyl was created as a powerful pain reliever with fewer side effects compared to other opioids. Since then, it has been used in various medical contexts making it a valuable tool in pain management, especially when other medications prove insufficient.


Being a potent synthetic opioid used medically for pain management, it has helped cancer patients as well as those who undergo surgery. Unlike natural opioids derived from the opium poppy, this drug is entirely manufactured in laboratories. This synthetic nature allows for precise control over chemical structure, leading to variations that can be stronger than the original compound.


In comparison to natural opioids like morphine, the synthetic drug is significantly stronger. This heightened effectiveness allows for smaller doses to achieve the desired effect. However, the risk of overdose is highly possible if not used correctly.


Potency: Fentanyl’s Lethal Strength


The supposed analgesic’s potency compared to other opioids is staggering. It is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. This means that even small amounts of it can have a profound effect on the body. This vast difference in potency underscores the dangers associated with its use, especially when it is not used as prescribed.


For example, a lethal dose of the drug can be as little as 2 milligrams, compared to 30 milligrams for heroin. Due to its strength, even a small amount of fentanyl in the mixture can lead to an overdose. This is because fentanyl acts quickly on the body's opioid receptors, suppressing respiratory function and leading to respiratory arrest.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a sharp increase in related overdoses in recent years. This increase is attributed in part to the widespread availability of illicitly manufactured drugs, often mixed with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. This highlights the importance of education and harm reduction strategies in addressing the crisis.


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Illicit Production and Distribution


Illicit production of the substance represents a critical component of the current opioid crisis, contributing to its availability in illegal drug markets.


The manufacturing process typically begins with the synthesis of fentanyl in clandestine laboratories, often located in countries with lax regulations. These labs produce the drug and its analogs using precursor chemicals sourced from various suppliers, making it challenging for law enforcement to track and intercept.


The clandestine manufacturing process of the said drug involves several stages, including the following:

  • chemical synthesis,

  • purification, and

  • sometimes mixing with other substances.


The lack of quality control in these underground labs raises serious concerns about the product.

Once produced, illicit fentanyl is distributed through various channels, primarily the black market. This underground economy relies on a network of dealers and distributors who transport the drug across borders and into communities, fueling the opioid crisis. Efforts to combat illicit production and distribution require a multifaceted approach to save more lives.



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Source: Cielo Treatment Center

Hidden in Street Drugs: Fentanyl’s Presence


The practice of mixing fentanyl with other drugs, often without the user's knowledge, has become alarmingly common. Significant increase in overdose is also observable, and sometimes it even leads to death. Dealers and manufacturers mix fentanyl with substances like heroin, cocaine, and counterfeit prescription pills to enhance the potency of these drugs or to cut costs.


The problem is worsened by the fact that it is odorless and tasteless, making it nearly impossible for users to detect its presence. This has led to a surge in unintentional overdoses, as individuals may unknowingly consume the substance at lethal levels.


Real-life examples highlight the impact of drugs on communities and individuals. In British Columbia, Canada, a public health emergency was declared in response to a spike in fentanyl-related overdoses. In one instance, a young woman died after consuming what she believed to be heroin, unaware that it was laced with fentanyl.


Similarly, in the United States, fentanyl-laced pills resembling prescription opioids have led to numerous deaths, including that of the musician Prince. These tragic cases underscore the urgent need for harm reduction strategies and access to naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, to combat the fentanyl crisis.


Impact on Public Health and Responses


The effect of drug use on public health has been devastating. In the United States, substance deaths have grown in recent years. This rise is attributed to its presence in illicit drug markets.

Governments and public health agencies have responded to the epidemic with various initiatives, including increased access to naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses. Other harm reduction strategies include expanding access to addiction treatment. However, these efforts are challenged by the clandestine nature of its production and distribution.


Conclusion


Understanding these facts about the analgesic’s use: its origin, its strength, how it is distributed, the risks associated with it, and its impact on public health is crucial for healthcare providers and policymakers to effectively manage the risk of misuse and addiction.


These aspects highlight the need for increased awareness, education, and prevention efforts to combat the said crisis. By working together, we can reduce the harm associated with fentanyl and ensure a safer, healthier future for all.


If you’re struggling with fentanyl use, please reach out to us to get help. Our team at Cielo Treatment Center will help you overcome the challenges you’re facing. Contact us today.


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