The prescription drug fentanyl was developed in the late 1950s as an anesthetic as well as an acute pain treatment.1 Its widely reported to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than other opioids (such as morphine) and its legitimate applications include pain management for cancer patients and people with nerve damage. Outside of appropriate medical usage, there is a large criminal market for fentanyl and its Illegal production may combine fentanyl with other illegal substances such as heroin.
In the past decade, overdoses from fentanyl have reached epidemic levels according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).2 Recent data states that fentanyl contributes to over half of fatal overdoses. Part of the problem is the potency of the drug. As little as 2 MG of fentanyl is lethal. Those addicted to fentanyl are at higher risk for fatal overdose than other opiates.3 Given the lethal potential of the drug, a 2022 article in Forbes magazine argued that fentanyl is the biggest public health crisis facing the nation.
Given the risk of fatal overdose, stopping fentanyl use is a vital issue to people suffering from this addiction.
Short Overview of the Detox Process
Our medical detox process for fentanyl begins with a telephone call and the start of our intake procedure. Our staff will ask information pertaining to you and your addiction and review your insurance coverage as it applies to our facility. After this confidential conversation, an in-person exam is set-up so staff can review your present health condition, gain background information on your history of addiction, and confirm you are physically ready for detox. Information on additional health conditions (e.g. high blood pressure, asthma, etc.) and any other substance abuse is also reviewed at this stage.
Assuming there are no health conditions preventing the start of detoxification, the staff and patient agree to a time when detox will begin. Since our process is medically monitored, the patient remains at the facility for 24-hours a day until completion of the program and discharge. The first symptoms of withdrawal may manifest within a half day from the last use of fentanyl. The patient will be given treatments to alleviate the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms while his or her body rids itself of fentanyl. These symptoms range from muscle aches and cramps to sweating to gastrointestinal issues (e.g. diarrhea). Additionally, a medication (buprenorphine or methadone) may be used to decrease fentanyl cravings. This medication may start at a higher dose and be tapered off during your stay as the cravings subside. Another medication, naltrexone, may be used after discharge to discourage relapse by preventing fentanyl from producing its intoxication effects.
Fentanyl detox may last as little as three days, or last about a week given how severe the dependency is. Once the patient has been abstinent from fentanyl for an extended period and is past the most intense period of withdrawal symptoms, he or she is prepared for discharge. Discharge may include prescription medication (such as naltrexone) as well as recommendations for counseling, rehab, and a 12-step program. This post-detox care is an essential foundation for continuing on the road of recovery. Psychological issues, such as deficient coping skills, may have contributed to the formation of addictive behavior and addressing these matters can help prevent a relapse into fentanyl use.
As mentioned previously, the greatest health concern with fentanyl is a lethal overdose. Fentanyl purchased illegally can vary in dose from batch to batch and it is often combined with other drugs that pose their own dangers. This irregularity can result in someone misjudging how much fentanyl that can tolerate. Even in the absence of an overdose, prolonged fentanyl use can lead to low blood pressure, lung problems (if ingested through smoking), and irregular health rhythms. Fentanyl can slow or stop a person’s breathing during an overdose. Naloxone (otherwise known as NARCAN or KLOXXADO) may be administered in hopes of delaying or discontinuing an overdose event. However, the amount of fentanyl taken and the timing of Naloxone administration can both affect the success of this intervention.
The illegal distribution of fentanyl does not necessarily use the medication’s proper name. If you believe a loved one may be using fentanyl, be aware that there are dozens of names given to this drug. Some of the more common names are:
- Tango and Cash
- Dragon’s Breath
- Dance Fever
If you hear a loved one mention any of these names, it can provide you with an opportunity to discuss the health risks posed by fentanyl and the treatment options available for those using the drug.
- Drug Fact Sheet: Fentanyl. Department of Justice / Drug Enforcement Administration. (April 2020). https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Fentanyl-2020_0.pdf
- “Understanding Drug Overdoses and Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (February 14, 2022). https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
- Caleb J. Banta-Green, PhD, MPH, MSW and Jason Williams, PhD. “Dramatic increases in opioid overdose deaths due to fentanyl among young people in Washington State.” (December 2021). Addictions, Drug, & Alcohol Institute. https://adai.uw.edu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/youth-fentanyl-2021.pdf