Why Is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was first synthesized in 1960 for pain relief. Much like other opioid analgesics, fentanyl is still used to treat severe pain. Individuals may use fentanyl during or after surgery, for a serious injury, or for cancer patients experiencing pain.

Applications to control pain with fentanyl can vary. Sometimes, doctors administer the drug through patches that go on the skin. Other times, they use fentanyl in the form of cough drops and tablets. There are also occasions when a doctor may apply fentanyl through nasal sprays and injections.

Drug abuse involving fentanyl and fentanyl overdoses are mainly attributed to illicitly manufactured fentanyl. This is when drug dealers cut fentanyl into heroin or press it into pills. They then sell this as a different drug, such as Xanax or Oxycodone.

Pharmaceutical companies produce fentanyl in controlled environments, unlike illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Taking this pharmaceutical fentanyl, with the help of medical professionals, is not as dangerous as illegal fentanyl use.

What Is an Opioid Drug?

Opioid drugs are a class of synthetic drugs that provides pain relief by binding to opioid receptors in the body’s central nervous system, as well as other areas. Being a synthetic opioid, fentanyl is different from non-synthetic opiate drugs. Unlike heroin, codeine, and morphine, fentanyl isn’t made from the opium poppy plant. Instead, scientists synthesize it in laboratories using a similar chemical structure to opiates.

Some other drugs that are also opioids include;

  • Loperamide (e.g., Imodium)
  • Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (e.g., Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • Oxymorphone (e.g., Opana)
  • Methadone (e.g., Dolophine)
  • Carfentanyl/carfentanil (e.g., Wildnil, for veterinary use)

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classed some opioids as Schedule I substances. This means that they are illegal to use, even medicinally. The DEA has also classed other opioids, such as prescription opioids, as Schedule II substances. Schedule II substances are those that are legal, only if used medicinally.

How Does Fentanyl Affect the Body?

Fentanyl works, like all opioid drugs, by binding to opioid receptors. Through these receptors, it is able to take effect.

Taking fentanyl produces a variety of different effects which can include any of the following:

  • relaxation
  • euphoria
  • pain relief
  • confusion
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • urinary retention
  • pupillary constriction
  • respiratory depression

The most common unwanted side effects include constipation, feeling nauseous, and drowsiness.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Once an individual becomes dependent on fentanyl, it is important to reduce doses gradually to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Once addicted, if a drug abuser comes off of fentanyl suddenly, it is likely that they could experience a number of uncomfortable symptoms. Health professionals categorize these symptoms as either early symptoms or late symptoms.

Early symptoms are symptoms that typically develop within the first twenty-four hours after an individual stops taking a substance. These include:

  • aching muscles
  • restlessness
  • increased anxiety
  • runny nose
  • excessive sweating
  • sleeping problems
  • lacrimation (eyes tearing up)

Later symptoms are symptoms that typically develop after the first twenty-four hours or so. Experts also consider them to be more intense and can include:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dilation of pupils (and possibly blurry vision)
  • rapid heart rate
  • high blood pressure

While opioid withdrawal syndrome can result in death, most deaths from fentanyl addiction come from an overdose.

Overdose Deaths

Heroin and fentanyl are two of the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths. In 2020, 74.8% of overdose deaths in the US involved the use of an opioid drug. Out of these opioid-related drug overdoses, 82.3% of these involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Evidently, there is a fentanyl epidemic, but why is this the case?

What Makes Fentanyl So Dangerous?

Fentanyl’s powerful opioid properties make it an effective pain-relieving medication. For this reason, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has categorized it as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This means that fentanyl is only legal if it is medicinal.

Fentanyl is so effective in fact, that it is 50 times stronger than even the most highly potent heroin and 100 times stronger than Morphine. It is possible for dependence and addiction to fentanyl to come from medicinal use. Its high potency and addictiveness make it the biggest cause of drug overdose in the US.

Fentanyl Production

The production of fentanyl takes place in two ways. The first is the legal way. In this way, pharmaceutical scientists produce the substance in controlled environments. Doctors then go on to prescribe it to individuals with chronic pain. The other way is illicitly manufactured fentanyl. This illicitly produced substance is the main product that is being sold illegally through the underground drug market. Fentanyl-related drug abuse can come from both types.

Illicit Fentanyl

Due to the fact that it is not controlled, clandestinely produced fentanyl is more dangerous than the pharmaceutically produced drug. Illegal drug manufacturers are mixing fentanyl with heroin, and other drugs. They also press it into pills and sell it as a different drug, such as Xanax. The reason they do this is to reduce their costs in order to increase their profits.

This is extremely dangerous because a drug user might think that they are purchasing heroin or Xanax, when in fact they may be unintentionally purchasing something much stronger. It is becoming increasingly common to see drug dealers mixing fentanyl with other drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

Mixing fentanyl with other drugs, accidentally or not, can cause serious harm. The drug user may use their standard dose but because of fentanyl’s high potency, even small doses could lead to a fentanyl overdose. However, the illegal form isn’t the only type of fentanyl use that is dangerous. Medicinally manufactured and controlled fentanyl can also, sadly, lead to overdose deaths.

Pharmaceutical Fentanyl

Whilst illegal fentanyl is the leading cause of opioid overdose, medicinal fentanyl has the potential to be just as destructive. Medically prescribed fentanyl can be addictive, therefore, medical use of fentanyl is carefully managed by medical professionals. Like all prescription medications, you should only take fentanyl as per your doctor’s recommended dosage.

Unfortunately, an individual who has a prescription may develop an addiction to the drug. When they are no longer able to obtain the drug medicinally, they may go on to find an illicit and unregulated form of it. When an individual engages in illegal fentanyl use, the chances of an overdose increase dramatically.

Fentanyl Overdose

Deaths from fentanyl and other opioid drugs are the leading cause of overdose deaths in the US. While they are dangerous, if medical personnel arrive on time, overdose deaths from fentanyl are preventable.

According to this study in 2019, some symptoms and signs of an overdose on fentanyl include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Limp body
  • Changes in pupillary size
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Blue-colored lips and fingernails (cyanosis)
  • Respiratory system failure
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Reduced or loss of consciousness
  • Coma

Someone experiencing an overdose on fentanyl requires immediate medical attention. If medical workers are able to get to the individual in time, they are able to administer a drug that counteracts the dangerous effects of the opioid. Naloxone, or Narcan, attaches to opioid receptors and rapidly reverses the effects of opioids.

If you or someone you know is using fentanyl and is experiencing these symptoms, you should call 911 immediately as they could be having an overdose.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

It is important for someone with a fentanyl addiction, along with any other kind of addiction to illicit drugs and prescription drugs, to get treatment. If you or someone you know is battling an opioid addiction, it can be relieving to know that it is possible for anyone to break free of the damaging hook of opioids. With the right care and support, you can leave the troubles of drug addiction behind you.

With the help of medical professionals, both medication and therapy are available to an individual who is ready to put an end to their fentanyl addiction. When an individual uses medication and therapy together, treatment tends to be more effective.

Medication

Fentanyl addiction treatment in the form of medication includes both buprenorphine and methadone. These work by binding to the same receptors in the brain as fentanyl to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Treatment can also include the use of naltrexone. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors to stop fentanyl from having an effect. Speak to a medical professional to discuss which treatment might be best for you.

Therapy

Various behavioral therapies are effective for fentanyl addiction. These therapies help individuals to modify their behaviors and attitudes related to drug use, promote healthy life skills, and stick to their medication.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these behavioral therapies include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Contingency management
  • Motivational interviewing

Being the addictive and highly potent drug that it is, addiction to fentanyl can be a scary thing. That is why it is so important to treat individuals suffering from substance use disorder with compassion and care.

At NP Addiction Clinic, we offer long-term programs combining treatments for individuals struggling with substance use disorders. We don’t heal through punishment; we heal through connection. That is why, if you choose to join an addiction treatment, you will be under the care of our compassionate and expert staff.

If you or a loved one feels ready to break free from the tight grip of addiction, then please reach out, and start your journey to wellness today.

Begin the first day of the rest of your life

To find out more contact our team

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Samantha Kelly​

Director of National Business Development & Admissions Coordinator

I am a dedicated and passionate professional with extensive experience in business development Admissions and marketing. I have an incredible passion for showing others that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel if someone truly wants it.
Being in recovery myself I understand the struggles of addiction and alcoholism. I Started this Career path in 2009. With multiple years of experience, I bring a multi-faceted approach and am always seeking new ways to make a difference in the lives of those I work with.

Kim L. Buckner

Facilitator

As a Substance Abuse Motivational Speaker, Pastor, Peer Advocate, and Facilitator. Kim helps clients avoid relapse by understanding their triggers. Those people, places and things that can cause craving, as well as internal triggers like feelings, thoughts, or emotions. Kim also clients with identifying and building healthy relationships now that they’re clean and sober.

Kim’s background includes extensive experience as a motivational speaker and work in faith-based organizations helping youth and adults alike. He says he is motivated by giving back to the community, understanding, and not judging who she comes into contact with. Kim’s favorite quote is by Dr. Raymond Johnson: “The respect given to others rebounds to the giver to deny the scared in the Other is to deny it in oneself.”

Caty Burns

Clinician

Caty graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Counseling and History. Throughout her undergrad, she worked at the local CASA program, supporting volunteers advocating for children who had experienced abuse and neglect. Caty worked for seven years at a community mental health center (CMHC), partnering with children, adults, and families.

During those seven years, she taught life and coping skills as well as behavior management, provided case management and peer recovery services, and facilitated treatment teams that included the client, family, providers, and community members. I have also worked at an IOP providing group therapy services. She is currently working towards my Master of Social Work.

In her free time, Caty enjoys reading, especially historical fiction, spending time outdoors and having movie nights with her family. Disney World is her happy place, and she dreams of living among the elephants.

Madison Knowles

Mental Health Therapist

My name is Madison Knowles, I am a Mental health therapist at NPAC. I am a single-mother of two and I have a daughter who is globally delayed and has been diagnosed with autism. I have been in this industry since I was 16 years old, as I was fascinated with human behavior. I obtained my masters in applied behavioral analysis and started off working with people with disabilities. I then found my love for counseling when I worked with juveniles who had mental health and substance use issues. I then decided to go back for my mental health therapy license after that and working in a forensic treatment center. I went on to obtain my therapy credentials and since 2017, I have also been working on my PhD in forensic psychology in which I am currently working on my dissertation. I am inspired by change and how resilient people can be. My favorite inspirational quote is “Some will, Some won’t, So what, NEXT!!!” This quote has inspired me to try, try, and try again no matter how hard life gets, someone will give you a chance eventually. As a therapist at NPAC, I have been given the opportunity to work with diverse populations such as in substance use and mental health and I am known for my work with people on the schizophrenic spectrum as well as with other clients with other severe conditions including personality disorders.

Megan Carmona, LMHC

Lead Therapist

Our Lead Therapist, Megan, is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with adults who struggle with addiction, anxiety, depression, and trauma. As Lead Therapist, she provides individual, family, and group therapy sessions to our clients.  Megan says “I am very passionate about therapy, especially about supporting my clients in exploring their strengths and identity. My goal is to provide individuals with the tools that can help them achieve independence in coping with their challenges and facilitating personal development.” In her free time, Megan enjoys watching docu-series and playing video games with her family. Her dream is to own acres of land so she can care for vulnerable animals, especially old dogs, cats, and horses. 

Kristen Bensley

Primary Clinician

As Primary Clinician, Kristen works with all aspects of our clinical team, from case management to primary therapy.  She has broad experience working in the mental health field. Prior to joining our team at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic, Kristen was part of the team awarded the Evernorth Behavioral Health Center of Excellence Designation by Cigna. She says her motivation is to help people rediscover who they are and become excited about the future and all the possibilities life offers. Kristen’s favorite quote is: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Ronn Daigle, MSW

Therapist, Utilization Review Clinician

Ronn Daigle services as a Therapist and Utilization Review Clinician at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has been working in the field of substance use disorder treatment since 2011, with experience in all facility-based levels of care. Ronn earned, both an Associate of Arts in Psychology (2013) and Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with an Addiction Studies Concentration (2015) from Indian River State College. 

Ronn additionally earned a Master of Social Work degree in 2021 and is a current Registered Clinical Social Work Intern working toward licensure (LCSW). He describes himself as detail oriented, and solution focused.

Ronn says: “There is nothing more fulfilling than working with someone who doesn’t believe in himself or herself, and being there in the moment with them when the belief begins. We work with individuals who come to us at a point and time in their respective lives where they do not believe that change for others is possible; let alone for themselves…throughout the process they eventually come to a point where they realize that change is not only possible, but achievable.”

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI

Assistant Clinical Director

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI is the Assistant Clinical Director at Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic who specializes in the treatment of LGBTQ, addiction, as well as mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety, to Bipolar Disorder, trauma, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders. Erika utilizes a number of modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness amongst others. Erika has been in practice for close to a decade and has earned her license in Mental Health Counseling, as well as being a Master’s Certified Addiction Professional. Erika has worked with many individuals including couples counseling and family therapy, and is fluent in Spanish.
 
Throughout my years of practice, one of the things I enjoy helping people find is inner peace. Whether you are in the deepest parts of depression, overrun by your anxiety, controlled by your addiction, or there are certain issues in your life that are negatively impacting your ability to function, and have a happy, healthy life, maybe now is the time to talk about it. I am a big believer in empowerment, working hard in therapy, and utilizing different techniques to help you regain that inner peace that may have been lost along the way. I want to work with you as a team because with two people, absolutely everything is possible. I want to be there as a therapist, to help build you up, support you, but also help you be honest with yourself and accountable. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, my biggest goal for you is going to be simple….for you to no longer need my services. Why? Because if you no longer need my services, it means that you have regained your peace, you have regained your strength, you have regained your confidence. It means that you now have the tools to address any issues that try to derail you, and best of all, you will have the insight to overcome and thrive. So let’s begin this journey together, and get you to the place you want to be, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and in your sobriety.

Aurelio Ayuso, MSW, LCSW, CAP, ICADC

Clinical Director

Aurelio has worked with those that suffer from the disease of addiction in adults and juveniles alike for over 10 years, beginning in the United States Navy where he proudly served for 20 years, working with those that were succumbed by addiction due to trauma and continuing his passion for helping those in need locally in Central Florida.

He specializes in both Addictions and Trauma, he has worked first as a therapist then as the clinical supervisor to both the Juvenile and Adult Drug Court programs in Brevard County. Aurelio has been instrumental in developing substance abuse treatment programs directly tailored to help those that also suffer from complex trauma due to their addiction. He has been recognized by several organizations for his forward thinking and ability to tailor treatment to individuals in the most restrictive environments.

Mr. Ayuso received his Graduate Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as Certified Addictions Professional in the State of Florida, and Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor. Aurelio specializes in the treatment of Addiction, Trauma, and Abandonment using strength based strategies deeply rooted in Solution Focused, and Mindfulness Therapies. At the Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic he passionately develops holistic curriculums that foster the belief that through addressing the mind, body, and spirit together, the Disease of Addiction can be addressed successfully.

Robert Lehmann, MHSA

Chief Operating Officer

Bob Lehmann is the Chief Operating Officer at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration with a concentration in Mental Health Administration and over twenty-five years of experience as a senior executive at addiction and mental health treatment facilities.

One of the reasons for his commitment to excellence in addiction treatment was his experience related to family members who suffered from the disease of addiction. Bob has been actively involved in community organizations throughout his career. Recently he was one of the founders of the Florida Addiction Treatment Coalition (FATC) and is its present Vice President. FATC was designed to bring together treatment executives in Florida to advocate on behalf of treatment facilities and the clients they serve adhering to a foundation of integrity and service excellence.

Jose R. Toledo, M.D.

Medical Director

A well-rounded and accomplished individual, Jose R. Toledo, M.D., is the Medical Director of Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a neurologist with 25 years of experience and has been in private practice since 1991 on the Treasure Coast of Florida. He completed his neurology training at the State University of New York and his Fellowship training at the University of Pittsburgh in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology.

He also completed 24 months of acute inpatient psychiatry at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center, University of Missouri in Kansas City. In 2008, Dr. Toledo participated in and was certified in the continuing medical education activity entitled “Buprenorphine and Office-Based Treatment of Opioid Dependence” from The Medical University of South Carolina during which began his quest to found and head Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a brain specialist with particular competence in addiction medicine and out-patient detoxification treatment and integrates the fields seamlessly. He is certified to prescribe Buprenorphine (Suboxone). He incorporates his background in neurology into the addiction field. Dr. Toledo is member/fellow of The American Medical Association, The Florida Medical Association and The American Society of Addiction Medicine