The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Phoenix Division has reported that over 1.1 million illegal fentanyl pills have been seized in Arizona this year. This is a huge increase from 2018, during which around 380,000 pills were taken off the streets. The recent seizure includes pills manufactured to resemble oxycodone M-30 tablets. With opioid addiction such a major health concern, having these pills off the streets is a big win for the DEA.
However, this doesn't mean Arizona authorities can relax. The opioid problem throughout the state and the entire country has been an ongoing concern for years. This year's seizure points to a going trend that involves illegal manufacturers using fentanyl but designing them to look like other opioids. This is being done by Mexican cartels who then smuggle them into America for sale on the street.
Because fentanyl is so strong, it can easily result in an overdose if the user mistakes the pills for something else. There's also a bigger chance of increased fentanyl addiction among opioid users.
Understanding "Synthetic" Opioids
When referring to opioids or any drug for that matter, the word "synthetic" may throw some people off. If it's made by pharmaceutical companies, doesn't that mean it's synthetic? Not necessarily.
Synthetic drugs are manufactured using man-made chemicals as opposed to naturally-occurring materials. For example, morphine is a natural substance made from opium found in poppy seeds. Prescription opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are considered semi-synthetic because they contain opium along with other synthetic materials.
Fentanyl, on the other hand, is completely synthetic. It doesn't contain opium and is produced using only man-made chemicals. Because scientists and drug manufacturers have total control over the chemical makeup of fentanyl, they're able to produce a drug that's stronger than other opioids.
This is why so many opioid overdoses involve fentanyl. It's also why illegal drug manufacturers, like those working for the Mexican cartels, can recreate the drug for sale on the street. Unfortunately, this creates a situation where users don't fully understand what they're taking.
Characteristics of Fentanyl
Used to treat severe pain, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that's 50 times more powerful than morphine. It's typically prescribed to patients dealing with severe pain related to cancer. Fentanyl comes in several forms, including transdermal patches, lozenges, and pills. Its popularity as a street drug is attributed to its heroin-like effects. In fact, it's often mixed with heroin to intensify the high.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic opioids were the most common drugs involved in overdose fatalities in 2016. This trend continued to rise in 2017. Most of these overdoses involved fentanyl. With illegally-manufactured, non-prescription fentanyl now being sold on the streets, deaths are likely to increase.
In addition to the threat of overdose, fentanyl addiction is also a major concern for people using the drug legally for pain management and those taking it illegally. Due to its strength, users can quickly form a physical dependency and start increasing their dosage.
Spotting Fentanyl Addiction
A fentanyl addiction carries many of the same symptoms as addiction to other opioids. However, because it's so strong, a person under the influence may seem more inebriated than normal. They may not be able to function as they once did. This is why many people lose their jobs and run into problems with friends and family.
Some of the most common signs of a fentanyl addiction include:
- Social isolation
- Looking sedated or lethargic
- Weight loss
- Lack of concentration
- Nausea or other gastrointestinal issues
- Mood swings
- Lack of motivation
A person who's developed an addiction my also start to have financial issues. This occurs once they've started prioritizing fentanyl over other monetary responsibilities. A person may also start to engage in criminal activity. If you notice this, it's important you intervene right away. Seeking professional drug treatment may be the only way to combat addiction.
Once a person who's formed a fentanyl addiction stops taking the drug, they're likely to start experiencing withdrawal symptoms within several hours. This is due to the drug's extremely short half-life. Physical withdrawal symptoms will come first. These include an intense craving for the drug, sweating, severe anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
These physical withdrawal symptoms will continue to get worse and peak after a few days. In cases of long-term fentanyl addiction, a person could be at risk of developing serious health issues during withdrawal. Dehydration due to vomiting, high blood pressure, and seizures may all be possible. That's why it's critical for an addict to withdraw from fentanyl under the supervision of a medical professional.
Treatment Options for Fentanyl Addiction
If you suspect a loved one has become addicted to fentanyl, they'll need to enter a treatment facility. The first stage of treatment will involve a detox program. This will help them through the physical withdrawal and clear the drug from their body. After that, they'll need to undergo drug counseling in either an inpatient or outpatient program.
Many people have also found success by undergoing opioid replacement treatment. This involves using a drug like methadone to curb cravings. Once an individual is no longer addicted to the opioid, they're slowly weaned off methadone. These programs are meant for individuals who've developed a long-term addiction and can't function without drugs.
After a person has completed their initial treatment, they'll need to continue to engage in substance abuse counseling. Professionals will give them the tools they need to avoid relapse and reclaim their lives after addiction.
Don't Let a Fentanyl Addiction Control Your Life
The opioid crisis is being made much more dangerous by the production of illegally-produced fentanyl. Although the authorities continue to crack down on these street drugs, they can't combat the influx of opioids becoming available to addicts.
If you or someone you love has developed an addiction to fentanyl or any other type of opioid, you need to act fast. The longer you wait to seek help, the harder the recovery process will be. Find a substance abuse rehab center in your area and speak with them about the best treatment program for you.