Did your doctor recently prescribe fentanyl for severe pain? It is generally prescribed to treat patients suffering from chronic pain, especially after surgery. In this article, we take you through what is fentanyl, its uses, abuse, and side effects.
What Is Fentanyl? – Prevalence, And Health Implications
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It belongs to the group of medicines termed narcotic analgesics (pain medicines). Fentanyl appears in the names of Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze® in prescriptions. Though similar to morphine, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It can be administered in different forms such as a shot or as lozenges that are consumed like cough drops or as a patch that is applied on a patient’s skin.
Uses of fentanyl
Fentanyl is generally used to:
- Treat breakthrough cancer pain. To explain, a patient may suffer from sudden episodes of pain that he/she may experience despite round-the-clock treatment with pain medication.
- Treat people suffering from severe pain, especially after surgery.
- Treat patients having chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. Tolerance is a condition in which one needs to be given a higher and/or more frequent dose of a drug to get the desired results.
Abuse of fentanyl
Fentanyl is made illegally as it has a heroin-like effect. It is generally made by mixing with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product. The intent of manufacturing fentanyl illegally is to increase its euphoric effects and this may be done with or without the knowledge of the user.
Also, there are several cases where people end up buying fentanyl presuming that it was heroin. According to Alex Kral, a Berkeley, California-based epidemiologist users disclosed to him that once they start using fentanyl, it is too hard to go back to heroin. The reason cited is that they don’t get the same high with fentanyl as with heroin.
How fentanyl affects your brain?
Fentanyl works similarly to morphine, heroin, and other opioid drugs. It works by binding to your body’s opioid receptors which are generally present in those areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When a person takes opioids several times, his/her brain gets adapted to the drug. As a result, the brain’s sensitivity will decrease and it becomes tough to feel pleasure from anything else except the drug. Finally, people become drug addicts and ruin their lives in the long run.
Surge in death count related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl
The most disturbing part is that deaths related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, excluding methadone and including fentanyl and fentanyl analogs witnessed an alarming surge of over 22% from 2020 to 2021.
The dangers of fentanyl overdose
As a result of fentanyl overdose, people may experience a slowing of breathing or stopping. This can lead to a reduction in the amount of oxygen that goes to the human brain. This condition is termed hypoxia and it may lead to serious health issues such as coma, permanent brain damage, and even death.
Side effects of fentanyl
1. Some of the side effects of fentanyl include drowsiness, gas, stomach pain, heartburn, loss of weight, difficulty while urinating, anxiety, depression, and changes in vision.
2. In case, you experience any of the symptoms such as changes in heartbeat, hallucinations, agitations, fever, fast heartbeat, vomiting, or nausea, reach out to your doctor immediately.
3. If you have symptoms including slow, shallowed breathing, a reduction in the urge to breathe, experiencing difficulty while breathing or swallowing, dizziness, extreme drowsiness, fainting, and confusion, stop using fentanyl immediately. Contact your doctor immediately or seek medical treatment at the earliest.
Hope the article offers lesser-known information about fentanyl, its uses, abuse, and side effects. For your information, fentanyl is to be given only by a doctor or under his / her immediate supervision. Also, keep your doctor informed if you have any health issues such as adrenal problems, a history of brain tumor, or breathing or lung problems as the presence of such medical problems may affect the use of fentanyl.