The Opioid Crisis is one of the biggest issues to capture the attention of Americans in recent times. It is estimated that opioids cause 130 deaths daily due to overdoses. These drugs have a great impact on the economic and social aspects of our society.
New potent drugs like fentanyl are even more potent than morphine and heroin and have very serious adverse effects.
Fentanyl is estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It was responsible for 59% of overdose deaths in 2017. This is compared to 14% in 2010. How did fentanyl become such a dangerous threat to patients and communities in America?
Lack of Information
One of the factors that have caused the Opioid Crisis, in general, is a lack of information. This could be partly due to the War on Drugs mentality which too often focused on supply rather than the root causes of drug abuse.
In the early 1990s pharmaceutical companies encouraged the prescription of its new opioids to manage long-term pain. Before this time, opioids were mainly confined to short-term pain because of the high risk of addiction. Long-term acute pain was treated with alternative therapies such as physical therapy and hypnosis.
The pharmaceutical companies claimed its new opioids had little potential for addiction. Once that assessment proved false, the government restricted access to legal opioids, reducing the available supply of oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Unfortunately, actions often have unforeseen consequences. The people newly addicted to opioids that were no longer obtainable turned to other drugs, leading to an increase in heroin abuse and the rise of fentanyl. Because fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, it can be made in the lab, making it much more attractive to dealers.
Fentanyl potency has also made it attractive to drug smugglers and dealers. Not only is it easier to smuggle a profitable quantity, but it can be added to heroin and other drugs—or even substituted for them—to make them more potent. Furthermore, the analogs of the drug from overseas are known to be even more potent than the ones prescribed by doctors.
Most people who abuse heroin—80%—start off with legal opioid pain medication. Practitioners charged with administering and dispensing these drugs must have a clear understanding of their dangers.
Although fentanyl is so much stronger than heroin, it does have legitimate medical uses. In the form of a time-release patch, fentanyl can be used to manage chronic pain. Unfortunately, fentanyl can cause dependency much more rapidly than other drugs. Nurses, primary caregivers, and medical practitioners who do not understand the dangers may expose their patients to serious risks.
The potency of fentanyl means that it is easy to overdose and die accidentally. Doctors must prescribe with caution. Other than dependency and addiction, medical practitioners need to pay attention to fentanyl's contraindications.
Like most opioids, it suppresses the function of the respiratory system. It can, therefore, be dangerous if prescribed to someone with a respiratory condition. Even patches that can release fentanyl slowly into the body have been known to cause adverse effects.
Health experts have put forward many proposals that could help reduce the risks caused by fentanyl and other prescribed opioid medications:
Limit the Dose: Fentanyl prescriptions should be limited to the lowest possible dose to avoid overdoses.
Prescription Guidelines: Any person charged with the responsibility of prescribing opioids should follow strict guidelines. The practitioner should review whether the patient is opioid tolerant and whether they have been taking other medications.
Patient Education: Patients and caregivers should be informed of the dangers of fentanyl. They should be shown how to use patches safely. Caregivers and patients also need to know the signs of an overdose so that the affected person can get treatment as soon as possible.
Fentanyl is a powerful drug that causes tolerance and dependency. Its withdrawal symptoms can be severe. This makes it hard for abusers to quit cold turkey. Some of the withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle discomfort and pain
- Uncontrollable twitches and leg movement
- Severe cravings
- Cold flashes
For the treatment of addiction to be effective, evidence-based protocols need to be applied in all procedures. Treatment at a drug rehabilitation facility will generally involve the following steps:
Patient Assessment: A qualified medical professional accesses your physical and mental history. This includes assessing whether underlying mental conditions may be the cause of addiction or vice versa (dual diagnosis).
Detox: Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be severe. The initial assessment will determine whether you need medication to reduce the side effects of withdrawal.
Addiction Treatment: Addiction treatment can take place at an inpatient or outpatient care facility. It often includes cognitive behavioral therapy, group counseling, and one-on-one counseling.
Aftercare: Staying sober after undergoing treatment at a drug recovery center often requires ongoing maintenance. Aftercare helps people learn how to deal with relapses. Aftercare programs may also connect patients with vocational opportunities after rehab.
The rate of overdose deaths caused by fentanyl remains high. Policymakers need to adopt new strategies that can effectively address the Opioid Crisis. With new strategies for prescribing pain medication and combating illegal drugs, many lives can be saved.