Fentanyl is a prescription narcotic pain reliever. It is manufactured from opiates that are derived from opium poppy plants. In most cases, fentanyl is used to treat severe forms of pain, such as chronic pain related to cancer treatments or recurrent back pain. Fentanyl has replaced morphine for many common uses in hospital care. The risk of abuse is high with fentanyl, and it appears to be gaining popularity among people who abuse opioid painkillers.
Who Abuses it?
It’s safe to say most of the people who abuse fentanyl ended up hooked on it after either using it medically or using other opiates, like heroin or Vicodin. WebMD notes, among high school students in America who tried heroin, 75 percent had used prescription painkillers first.
People with a genetic predisposal to addiction may be more likely to fall prey to abuse and dependence when prescribed this drug. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports half of the likelihood of developing an addiction relates to hereditary. In addition, individuals who suffer from mental health disorders are also at an increased risk for developing an addiction.
In some cases however, fentanyl abuse doesn’t start with a prescription – or at least not the individual’s own prescription. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids states 28 percent of individuals who abused prescription pain relievers in one study reported getting them from friends, family, a dealer, or online.
What Does Fentanyl Abuse Look Like?
People who abuse fentanyl often exhibit odd behaviors and have an unkempt appearance that is telltale of their habit. Other than a disheveled image, individuals who abuse this drug may:
- Grow tolerant to the drug’s effects and require more of it to get high
- Experience mood swings, including extreme highs and lows
- Feel anxious
- Experience paranoid thoughts
- Need excessive amounts of sleep
- Have trouble limiting how much or how frequently they use
- Spend a lot of time securing a stash and using
- Opt out of family events and functions with friends
- Have strong cravings for the drug
- Experience headaches, nausea, and other effects of withdrawal if they stop using
- Get arrested, fired, or suffer other consequences as a result of their drug use
- Feel nauseated or throw up often
- Have trouble breathing
- Experience swelling in their hands and feet
- Behave defensively when questioned about their habit
Over time, people who abuse fentanyl can end up paying a steep price for it. Sometimes, fentanyl abuse is even fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people out of every 100,000 died of an overdose of opioid painkillers in 2014. Even those who escape the clutches of overdose are likely to find themselves with an impaired immune system, financial troubles, unemployment issues, or loneliness due to estranged friends and family members. Adults who used opioids in 2010 were more likely to be unemployed than the same demographic in 2000, per the journal of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine.
Additional side effects of fentanyl abuse include:
- Excessive sweating
- Pinpoint pupils
- Altered heartbeat
- Depressed breathing
- Appetite issues
- Persistent dry mouth
Methods of Abuse
Fentanyl is a little different from the other opioids of its class. For pharmaceutical use, fentanyl is typically administered via an IV, oral pill, or dissolvable film. All of these methods can be abused easily though.
Injection drug use is prevalent among people who abuse opioids. Those who opt for fentanyl in lieu of heroin may have the supplies ready to go and prefer the instantaneous high that comes with injecting the substance. Of course, this method of abuse also comes with some of the greatest risks. The International HIV and AIDS Alliance states that one in 10 new infections of HIV is attributed to injection drug use.
Abusing tablets is more common. Some people abuse the tablets by taking too many or combining them with other substances, such as alcohol. Others crush the tablets and snort the resulting substance.
Fentanyl also comes in patches. People who abuse these pain patches may apply several at once. The FDA has issued a warning that even patients with prescriptions for fentanyl pain patches need to explicitly follow the instructions to reduce the risk of a fatal overdose, per WebMD. It’s also a lot easier to hide patches on the body.
The fentanyl lollipop is one of the most dangerous forms of fentanyl that can be abused. In professional medical settings, the lollipop is generally used to treat cancer patients suffering from breakthrough pain that other opioid painkillers cannot control. In the drug abuse community, these lollipops are enjoyed like candy, and they can lead to overdose and death.