As the opioid epidemic rages on, concern about the drug fentanyl continues to rise. One of the most powerful and deadly substances of the opioid class, fentanyl has been linked to numerous fatal overdoses in recent years. Here is an overview of the strong pain medication and why it’s a growing concern amongst law enforcement.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is one of the strongest opioids on the market today with its strength surpassing that of heroin by 40 to 50 times. The drug isn’t long-lasting and has a rapid onset with a short duration of action that is intended to be used during surgical aftercare or for breakthrough pain. Breakthrough pain is when a person who is already on an opioid for chronic pain management still experiences some occasional pain that requires an additional drug, such as fentanyl, for relief.
Fentanyl can come in time-release formulations — a lollipop and a patch — to provide pain sufferers strong relief over time. Fentanyl can also come in the form of a small film that dissolves under the tongue, a pill meant to be lodged inside a person’s cheek, and as an injection from a doctor.
Why is fentanyl a growing concern?
Misusing fentanyl is highly dangerous, as the difference between a therapeutic dose and a deadly dose is minute. Fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. As with any opiate, fentanyl triggers the receptors to produce feelings of euphoria that a person without the need for the drug tries in vain to chase.
Individuals who don’t steal the powerful narcotic from hospitals or nursing homes — a common practice — purchase it on the streets. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold on the streets in the forms of a powder, spray, pill, or on blotter paper that is placed in the mouth so that the fentanyl is absorbed quickly through the mucous membrane. Fentanyl can also act as a substitute for heroin or be mixed with it, which has led to many people overdosing because they did not realize they had consumed the dangerous narcotic. Fentanyl was involved in 700 overdose deaths from late 2013 to 2014 alone, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Fentanyl’s potency can be so strong that one dose as small as a few grains of salt can be deadly. The drug can also be absorbed through the skin and inhaled if it becomes airborne. This has left law enforcement to carry the anti-overdose spray Narcan to save not only victims of fentanyl but themselves from accidental fentanyl exposure.
With the frightening increase in fentanyl overdoses and law enforcement working hard to alleviate the growing problem, it is important for people to be informed of the drug’s dangers and to seek help for their addiction.