Street drugs are what most people think of concerning drug abuse. The reality is that prescription drugs are abused more often. Painkillers like fentanyl are among the most popular drugs for abuse. Like many other opioid drugs, fentanyl is misused not only through prescriptions but through illegal street sales, too. First developed in 1960, fentanyl was created as a more potent painkiller than morphine and other existing opioid drugs. The drug is nearly a hundred times stronger than morphine in its pain relieving capabilities. It’s also characterized by its ability to act quickly and have a short period of effectiveness.
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Uses of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is used primarily for cancer patients who can no longer get relief from other opioid drugs like oxycodone. In its pure form, fentanyl is a white powder. The agent can be easily absorbed into the fat tissue in the body. It also passes quickly through the skin. Because of its power, it’s rarely administered in this powder form. The most common method of use is with transdermal patches. This approach allows the chemical to be slowly released into the body over two to three days. The medication can also take the form of lozenges or even lollipops that are absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth. Using it in pill form is more difficult to control. On the one hand, this approach lets the chemical enter the bloodstream too fast. On the other hand, the human digestive system can destroy a considerable amount of the drug.
This analgesic was first available to doctors in the 1960s when it sold under the name Sublimaze. It quickly became popular because it could be used on patients who were no longer responding to other pain medications. Tolerance to opioid drugs is important because fentanyl can overwhelm the system of a person with no tolerance. It works in much the same basic way as other opioid drugs. It’s carried through the bloodstream into the brain where it blocks pain receptors. Since then, the drug has been sold under other names such as the following:
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The Side Effects of Fentanyl
With its widespread use, physicians were able to notice the negative aspects of the drug. Because it has a short period before it wears off, frequent doses of fentanyl have to be administered. This increases the chances of addiction. Compared to other opioid drugs, fentanyl is thought to be one of the safest. But all members of this category have the potential to be dangerous. Along with the risk of addiction, this agent also has a strong sedative effect. This can result in several systems in the body becoming depressed in their functioning. Breathing can become shallow and difficult. Blood pressure can become much lower and cause dizziness or even unconsciousness. Mental functions can also slow down. The drug has even been linked to increases in mental depression.
Because of these side effects, persons with any pre-existing conditions like hypotension, respiratory illnesses, or depression cannot use this medication. It can also become dangerous if mixed with any other kind of sedative. There are occasional problems with transdermal patches not working properly. They can release the drug too quickly. Another downside to the drug, related to its addictive quality, is withdrawal if its use is ended abruptly.
As in the case of other prescription drugs, this one has found its way into illicit markets. At first, the illegal use of fentanyl primarily consisted of patches being stolen or smuggled out of legal supplies. Drug users would cut the patches up into smaller pieces which are then eaten. Another favorite technique was to roll the patch into a tube and smoke it simply. Pharmaceutical companies that produce the patches have re-engineered them to make quick absorption through these techniques harder. The gel reservoir has been replaced by a plastic matrix that contains the medication.
More recently, illegal drug labs, primarily based in Mexico, have figured out how to synthesize fentanyl. This results in a product similar to the original form, a white powder. It’s legally considered a schedule II narcotic. This is sold on the street under names such as fent, China white, magic, or Apache. This version of fentanyl has a similar appearance to heroin and is often passed off as it. It can also be mixed with poor-quality heroin to give it greater potency. Using it as a substitute for heroin has produced lethal results. Fentanyl is far stronger than heroin. An addict used to using heroin can very easily take an overdose of this drug. The danger goes beyond dosage. As was already pointed out, fentanyl is also a powerful sedative. The most common way it kills a user is by severely depressing the respiratory system. Drug enforcement experts believe that, because of the similar appearance and nature of the two drugs, some heroin deaths may actually be caused by synthesized fentanyl.