Are Synthetic Opiates Like Fentanyl and Its Chemical Cousins A Major Addiction Problem?

Up to 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin, fentanyl is the drug that took Prince’s life in 2016. In 2017, the Palm Beach Post reported that fentanyl was killing more people in Florida than heroin. Fentanyl deaths hit an all-time high in Palm Beach County in 2017, associated with 293 deaths, the second-highest in the state behind Duval County.

According to Palm Beach County’s medical examiner Michael Bell, as of July, 2018, the county had about 38% fewer deaths related to fentanyl than July, 2017. Overdoses aren’t down, Bell said, but fewer people are dying. The difference is largely due to wider availability of Narcan (Naloxone).

Palm Beach County officials credit first responders carrying Narcan for reducing fatal overdoses. Because fentanyl and other synthetic opiates are so powerful, first responders and rehabs in Palm Beach County aren’t the only ones with Narcan. Drug dealers are including Narcan with opiate purchases.

Why is Fentanyl so deadly?

According to Sarah Wakeman, MD, medical director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Substance Use Disorder Initiative, fentanyl’s strength and inexpensive manufacture are key to its deadliness. Some people are buying pills that look like oxycontin or Xanax, but they are fentanyl. Others use fentanyl knowingly in search of ever-stronger highs.

Originally created in 1960, fentanyl was intended for end-of-life pain relief and as an anesthetic. At 50 to 100 times the strength of heroin, fentanyl bonds rapidly to opioid receptors in the brain. Like other opiates, it depresses breathing, and when someone OD’s on fentanyl, they stop breathing.

Is Fentanyl the only synthetic opiate?

Fentanyl is far from the only synthetic opiate to produce a high or lead to addiction. Carfentanil, which is used to cut heroin, is a tranquilizer meant for large animals (elephants and rhinos) that’s 100 times stronger than fentanyl. Carfentanil was never synthesized for human use and its incredible strength means that only a few grains the size of table salt could be deadly.

Other fentanyl-related synthetic opiates include:

  • alfentanil
  • remifentanil
  • lofentanil
  • sufentanil

Carfentanil is the most powerful of the group, but the others range from 2 to 20 times as strong as fentanyl.

Fentanyl can be included in heroin or misused in combination with other drugs, leading to an overdose that can’t be reversed by naloxone (Narcan).

Detox and treatment for fentanyl and its cousins differ from non-synthetic drugs. The drugs are “lipophilic” which means some traces can be stored in body fat. Other aspects of these powerful drugs influence detox, recovery, and relapse prevention. If you are looking for rehabs in Palm Beach County and have used fentanyl, contact us at Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers or call (855) 537-3485.

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