The opioid crisis has been making headlines recently, with fentanyl as a particularly hot topic. If you work in education or in the justice system, you’ve probably heard or seen some of the damaging effects of this drug. 

What is Fentanyl? 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was originally developed for medical purposes.  It’s intended to treat severe pain, often after surgery or in terminally ill patients. Its potency is up to one hundred times more potent than morphine and can be lethal in even the smallest doses. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are currently responsible for the most drug overdose deaths in the U.S.

How is it Used? 

Fentanyl can be used in different forms, including as a shot, a patch, or lozenges, when prescribed by a doctor. Illegally, fentanyl is often sold as a powder, on blotter paper, in eye droppers or nasal sprays, or made into pills resembling other prescription opioids. Some drug dealers mix fentanyl with other drugs to create a cheaper option, which can be dangerous as users may unknowingly consume stronger opioids and have a higher risk of overdose.

What are Other Effects? 

Fentanyl affects the brain by binding to opioid receptors in areas that regulate pain and emotions. Over time, the brain becomes less sensitive to the drug, leading to a diminished ability to experience pleasure from anything other than the drug itself. This can result in addiction, where drug seeking and use become the primary focus of an individual’s life. 

Fentanyl’s effects also include: extreme happiness, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, breathing difficulties, and unconsciousness.

What Do You Do If You Think Someone is Overdosing? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the steps if you think someone is experiencing an opioid overdose: 

  1. Call 911 Immediately. (If you’re worried about legal repercussions, many states have Good Samaritan laws that are designed to protect overdose victims and those who assist in getting them help without legal consequences). 
  2. If possible, administrator naloxone, which is a life-saving drug available in both an injectable and a prefilled spray. 
  3. To prevent choking, lay the person on their side. Try to keep them awake and breathing, and wait with them until more help arrives.

What Treatments are Available for Addiction? 

There are some medications paired with behavioral therapy that are helpful for treating those with fentanyl addiction. With the help of a practitioner, medications like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone are safe and effective at saving lives.