Lifeskills Mental Health Blog

Fentanyl: Everyday Life in America

Tablet with the chemical formula of fentanyl.

Fentanyl: Everyday Life in America

Apache, China Girl, China Town, Jackpot, Murder 8 – these are just some of the many street names for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. It is an FDA approved prescription drug that is typically used to treat long-term severe pain or pain after surgery. For this purpose, it is administered as a shot, a patch, or in lozenges. However, it is also made and used illegally, often mixed with heroin or cocaine without the buyer’s knowledge, because it is cheaper and more potent.

Fentanyl has now become the most common drug involved in overdose cases in the United States, with it being contributed to just over 59% of opioid-related deaths in 2017 compared to 14.3% in 2010. Dr. Daniel Bober, Medical Director at Lifeskills South Florida says, “This is everyday life in America. There are 130 overdose deaths every day. It is a scene that plays out time and time again.”

What is the effect of fentanyl?

As with other opioids, fentanyl works rapidly by connecting to the body’s opioid receptors controlling pain and emotion that are in the brain. Continued use of opioids causes the brain to adapt to the drug and diminish the sensitivity making it difficult to feel pleasure from anything other than the drug, creating a psychological dependency. Fentanyl produces a stronger high and is more potent than cocaine or heroin, meaning it takes less to have the same effect – a micro gram of fentanyl is as effective as a milligram of other opioids.

There are some common side effects that can occur with fentanyl use:

  • redness and irritation of your skin where you apply the patch
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • trouble sleeping
  • constipation
  • increased sweating
  • feeling cold
  • headache
  • diarrhea
  • loss of appetite

Overdosing on fentanyl is possible, and even more likely when it is mixed with heroin or cocaine. An overdose produces serious adverse effects such as slowed breathing leading to hypoxia or lack of oxygen to the brain, causing the body to suffer a coma, permanent brain damage, or death.  Other physical signs of an overdose can include the following:

  • Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
  • Cold clammy skin
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing

Naloxone (Narcan) is often used to reverse fentanyl overdoses, however, because of the potency higher doses of the medication are needed for it to be successful. “If the opioid effect lasts longer than the effect of the Narcan, the medication can wear off fairly quickly and you require multiple doses. The reason we are seeing this is because of the addition of fentanyl in drugs like heroin. The fentanyl is causing the brain to forget to breathe and that is what is causing these deaths,” shares Dr. Bober.

How do you treat addiction?

Eliminating the drug is the first step for recovery, however, it is difficult.  An article released by Harvard University states that “addictive substances commandeer the brain’s reward system and undermine peoples’ determination to make wise choices, even when they know they are likely to suffer as a result.” In addition, they explain that “since faulty brain circuits don’t return to normal right away, if ever, detoxification is rarely enough to keep someone clean or sober. Long-term treatment is essential.”

At Lifeskills South Florida, we offer residential treatment and psychotherapy which allows clients to create new neural pathways and develop new habits and effective coping skills. Our Substance Use Disorder clinical pathway is used in treating clients with a complex substance use disorder and/or a process addiction.  We use a holistic approach to treatment that integrates Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) principles with the 12-Step philosophy. Evidence supports that combining evidence-based materials with a 12-Step based philosophy provides stronger client outcomes than using a typical 12-Step program alone. We encourage clients to become engaged in community self-help groups that will assist in reinforcing a lifestyle of abstinence, sobriety, and recovery.

Dr. Michelle Quilter, Director of the DBT Programming, states, “We encourage clients to build a life that will be consistent with their recovery so that staying clean becomes the new reward and self-efficacy, the new source of the sensation of pleasure.”

We understand that addiction is complex but treatable and that effective treatment addresses all the client’s specific needs. For this reason, our team works with the client to design a customized treatment approach that helps clients achieve the self-awareness, self-reliance, and self-monitoring skills needed to live an independent life outside of treatment.

Learn more about how fentanyl is affecting our society in this short interview with Dr. Daniel Bober.

If you or someone you know needs help with a substance use disorder or other mental health condition, Lifeskills South Florida can help.  Call us today at 954-953-1742 or complete our contact form for more information.


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