Overdose Deaths from Fentanyl are on the Rise
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that 33,091 people
died from opioid overdoses in 2015, which accounts for 63 percent of all drug
overdose deaths in the same year. A recent report from the CDC found that drug
deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, other than methadone, rose
72 percent in just one year, from 2014 to 2015.
Last year, the death of music icon Prince was linked to fentanyl and the prescription
drug has become a source of concern for government agencies and law enforcement
officials alike, as death rates from fentanyl-related overdoses and seizures have risen across the country.
What exactly is fentanyl?
According to the National Institute on Drug
Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to
morphine – but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a schedule II prescription
drug, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage
pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic
pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. In its prescription form,
fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic® and Sublimaze®.
Like heroin, morphine and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s
opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and
When opioid drugs bind to these receptors,
they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a
state of euphoria and relaxation. But fentanyl’s effects resemble those of
heroin and include drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation,
tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma
So why is abuse and misuse of fentanyl so
When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is
often administered via injection, transdermal patch or in lozenges. However,
the fentanyl and fentanyl analogs associated with recent overdoses are produced
in clandestine laboratories.
This non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold in
the following forms: as a powder; spiked on blotter paper; mixed with or
substituted for heroin; or as tablets that mimic other, less potent opioids.
Fentanyl sold on the street can be mixed with heroin or cocaine, which markedly
amplifies its potency and potential dangers.
Users of this form of fentanyl can swallow,
snort or inject it, or they can put blotter paper in their mouths so that the
synthetic opioid is absorbed through the mucous membrane. Street names for
fentanyl or for fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, China Girl, China White,
Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash.
Can misuse of fentanyl lead to death?
Opioid receptors are also found in the areas
of the brain that control breathing rate. High doses of opioids, especially
potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which
can lead to death. The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of
overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or
pill contains fentanyl.
The United States Drug Enforcement
Administration issued a nationwide alert in 2015 about the dangers of fentanyl
and fentanyl analogues/compounds. Fentanyl-laced heroin is causing significant
problems across the country, particularly as heroin use has increased in recent
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