Fentanyl, Powerful Synthetic Narcotic, Contributing To Opioid Crisis

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic narcotic painkiller has been named a chief culprit in the nation’s opioid crisis, a new study finds. Deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl are now the main drivers of drug overdose deaths in the United States.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid approved by the FDA for use as a painkiller and anesthetic. It is 100 times stronger than morphine. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, but it does so faster, and in smaller doses, than morphine or heroin. Like other opioids, it boosts levels of the chemical dopamine, which controls feelings of reward, pleasure, euphoria, and relaxation.

 

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Fentanyl: Some History

Fentanyl was created in 1960 and introduced as an anesthetic later that decade. Because it is synthetic, it can be easily and inexpensively made in a lab.
Due to its chemical structure, it has rapid and potent effects on the brain and body, and even very small amounts can be extremely dangerous.It only takes a tiny amount of the drug to cause a deadly reaction. It can depress breathing and lead to death. The risk of overdose is very high.

It is about 50-100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than many forms of heroin. As a result, it can be dangerous and deadly if misused. When abused, it is typically swallowed, snorted, or injected.

 

Fentanyl: Why The Abuse?

Despite the relatively low rate of prescriptions, it is a major player in the opioid epidemic. Illegal versions were  responsible for the tripling of overdose deaths from synthetic opioids in just 2 years, from 3,105 in 2013 to 9,580 in 2015, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and painful. It may include muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, sweating, abdominal pain and cramping.  Rapid heart rate, insomnia, tremors, and anxiety, also occur.

Fentanyl: Treatments

Treatment for this addiction, like any opioid use disorder, includes the use of FDA-approved medication, such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone.These must be prescribed and managed by a health care professional. It also includes professional therapy and recovery support systems, such as group counseling.
The medication naloxone (Narcan) can reverse overdoses. But because the opioid is so potent, patients often require much higher doses of Narcan to be successful. Case in point: Prince received Narcan in the days before his death, but it didn’t work, law enforcement officials reported.

 

Fentanyl: Current Law Enforcement

Fentanyl is a serious problem for law enforcement. Since it is a legal prescription drug, it didn’t fall under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which would have made it illegal. In response to this problem, the Drug Enforcement Administration in February issued a temporary order to place all fentanyl-related substances that are not already regulated by the CSA into Schedule I.

Criminal penalties will now apply to anyone who illegally makes, distributes, imports, exports, or possesses fentanyl-related substances. The order is effective for 2 years, with a possible 1-year extension. This will make it easier for law enforcement to deal with the explosion in trafficking and overdose deaths.

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