How Do People Misuse Fentanyl?
Authored by Dillon McClernon
Your friend always seemed to have everything under control. You knew they’d tried a few different kinds of drugs in college, but tons of people did so you weren’t concerned. They’ve always acted normal around you, nothing that would have made you feel a need to be concerned.
Then they got an injury on the job. They were on painkillers for a bit while they healed. You didn’t think much of it until months after their injury had healed, you found a bottle of the same painkillers stashed at their house. You’d been noticing some behavioral changes in them recently, but you brushed it off as stress. Now, though, you aren’t so sure.
Fentanyl is a rising concern for people across the country, even here in the Midwest. Not only can it be a concern on its own, but there’s also a trend of other substances being laced with fentanyl, leading to an increase in overdoses. So how do people misuse fentanyl? Are there signs you can look out for? How do you know if you’ve taken it accidentally?
Here at Recovery Centers of America, we hear all sorts of stories regarding people and their substance use history. Our clients come from many different walks of life, and we’re here to support them in every way we can during their recovery journey. With a community-driven edge to our care practices, we write pieces just like this to better educate not only our clients but those who have never walked through our doors. Today we’re going to look at fentanyl misuse and discuss further how it happens and what can be done about it.
How Do People Misuse Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is in a class of substances called opioids, which are commonly used as medications for pain relief. Fentanyl, in particular, is utilized in the case of severe pain management, often amongst cancer patients, when other medications don’t work. This is due to fentanyl’s high potency compared to other forms of opioids. On average, fentanyl is 50x more potent than morphine.
So how is it misused?
Misuse can be as simple as taking medication outside of doctor’s orders, such as taking pills more frequently than prescribed. It can also refer to using a substance without a prescription at all or using it in combination with other substances or in any other way that isn’t safe.
For some, the effects of fentanyl can become enticing, therapeutic, or more. People can get to a point where they want to keep feeling its effects, so they seek out the substance again. As an opioid, fentanyl also leads to withdrawal, where a person continues to take the drug to avoid unpleasant feelings that occur when the body is no longer getting the drug. This is just one common example of misuse. Let’s take a look further into the why of fentanyl misuse.
Understanding the Dangers of Fentanyl Misuse
Everyone is aware that drug use can have negative consequences, but what about them is negative? For many, the effects of a substance serve to self-medicate mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, or reactions to trauma.
Just because something might appear to have positive effects for someone does not negate the desctuctive and long-lasting impacts of substance use.
With fentanyl, the longer the use the higher the risk for withdrawal when use stops. Opioid withdrawal and its side effects often lead to people continuing to use the substance, and during this time they’re increasingly susceptible to overdoses.
The Consequences of Fentanyl Misuse on Your Health
As with any form of substance use, the history of a person’s substance use puts them at greater risk of experiencing side effects and withdrawal. The same is true with fentanyl use. Here are some of the common side effects of fentanyl use:
- Menstrual problems
- Decreased sex drive
- Increased drowsiness or fatigue
- Impaired balance
- Difficulties breathing
Commonly Overlooked Forms of Fentanyl Misuse
When people think of “misuse” with medications like fentanyl, they often think of intentional use. They think of someone who knows what drug they are taking. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes misuse can be as simple as accidentally taking a higher dosage, or even by taking other substances while on a medication that you’re not supposed to take other substances on. A common example of this is drinking while taking a medication that negatively interacts with alcohol.
Fentanyl also comes in many forms. When prescribed, it can be seen as a lozenge, tablet, or even a film applied to the skin. Those who take it illicitly are more likely to be seen injecting it or simply taking it as a pill.
Accidental Ingestion Through Laced Drugs
The most common form of fentanyl use is unintentional. How exactly does this happen?
Due to its synthetic nature, fentanyl is relatively cheap for drug dealers to either make or get ahold of. Because of this, they often choose to lace their products with fentanyl to reduce costs on their end while ensuring that their clients still experience a high. The problem with this is rarely is this lacing disclosed. When this happens, someone could take their normal dosage of a substance like cocaine or heroin without knowing there is fentanyl in it. This can often lead to overdose due to how much stronger fentanyl is than the substances it’s being laced into.
Here in Indiana alone, over 75% of all overdose deaths in 2021 were related to opioid use. There are ways to prevent this, however, through the use of fentanyl testing strips.
Fentanyl testing strips, sometimes shortened to FTS, are a way for people to test their substances for the presence of fentanyl. FTS can often be acquired for free at certain facilities and are a great way to prevent overdose.
Additionally, if you ever think a loved one is experiencing a fentanyl-related overdose – don’t be afraid to call for medical help. The Good Samaritan Law in Indiana prevents you from getting into legal trouble for seeking medical help for a substance overdose.
The Escalating Misuse of Fentanyl Among Different Populations
Opioid use and opioid-related overdoses have been increasing within the past years, with fentanyl becoming a more common factor among all of these, particularly in combination with other substances.
Here are what some studies are showing:
- In the Northeast, the most common overdoses were a combination of heroin and fentanyl
- In the West, South, and Midwest the most common overdoses were a combination of methamphetamine and fentanyl
- In Indiana, ER visits caused by opioids increased by over 2,000 from 2019 to 2020
- In Indianapolis specifically, the highest risk of fentanyl-related overdoses is among young to middle-aged groups
What Are the Treatment Options for Fentanyl Misuse?
Whether it started with a prescription, or it started at a party when a friend passed you a pill and told you to try it, there is always a way toward recovery no matter why you started or how far along you are. The steps toward recovery are always here for you, and our team here at Recovery Centers of America is ready to help.
While we do offer the full continuum of recovery care, from detox to outpatient, the most important thing we offer for fentanyl recovery is medication for addiction treatment, otherwise known as MAT. MAT utilizes FDA-approved medications to help people going through opioid withdrawal not only manage their symptoms but also reduce cravings and make it so they cannot feel the effects of opioids while on the medication. This helps reduce the risk of people returning to use and reduces the risk of overdose. It also helps people focus on their recovery instead of their cravings, so they can learn the skills they need to manage any potential future triggers on their own.
We support our clients not only while they’re here, but after they leave our doors with a robust alumni network and outpatient programming. While we utilize our inpatient treatment to help clients lay the foundation of recovery, that can often be tested once they leave. This is due to the many triggers that can lie at home, as well as challenges they might encounter that aren’t always easy to handle alone. Having support along the way from fellow peers, medical professionals, and even just friends and family can make a world of difference in long-term recovery.
If you’re looking to get started on your recovery journey, RCA is here to help. We take admissions 24/7/365 – so give us a call anytime at 1-800-RECOVERY and we’ll get you started today.
What is the misuse of fentanyl?
Misuse refers to taking a substance against medical advice. This could mean taking too high of a dosage, taking it in combination with other substances, or taking it without a prescription entirely.
How many people have died from fentanyl?
In 2021 there were over 70,000 overdose deaths involving opioids, primarily fentanyl.