Even without watching recent news coverage, it is likely that you have heard stories about the rise in opioid related overdoses in recent years, specifically those involving fentanyl.
What Is Fentanyl?
Although popularly known for its illegal uses and role in the uptick in drug related overdoses, fentanyl was created as a synthetic opioid to be used in pain management for those with chronic pain, or post-surgery. Being nearly 100 times more potent than morphine, fentanyl is not only relatively inexpensive to produce and fast acting, but it offered the medical field an alternative for patients who were resistant to preexisting medications.
It did not take long for fentanyl to appear on the illegal drug market. Being inexpensively produced in unregulated and illegal laboratories, the strength and cheapness of fentanyl has made it a go-to for drug dealers to mix with other drugs to make them more potent and reduce their cost. Fentanyl can often be found laced into some of the most popular narcotics including cocaine, heroin, and meth.
How Is Fentanyl Different?
What sets fentanyl apart from other narcotics, and even other opioids, is that fentanyl is intensely potent. 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, fentanyl is not only highly addictive, but has the potential to be extremely deadly.
2 milligrams of fentanyl is considered to be a lethal dose. For reference, 2 milligrams is smaller than the lead on the tip of a number 2 pencil. This, combined with the potency, low cost, and fact that fentanyl can be mixed with nearly any other narcotic to decrease cost and increase strength, has led to an exponential rise in fentanyl related overdoses.
What’s more is that many substance users have no idea that the drugs they are using have been mixed with fentanyl. In recent years 42% of counterfeit pills seized by the DEA contained at least 2mg of fentanyl; it should be noted that 2mg is often considered the threshold measurement for certain death.
Fentanyl Overdose Statistics
It is these stories of fentanyl overdoses that have helped to illustrate the devastation that fentanyl related deaths have caused. That being said, it is the statistics surrounding this crisis that complete the full picture.
Just this April, two men were charged after enough fentanyl to kill 4.7 million people was found in their home. For reference, this is roughly enough fentanyl to kill half of the population of New York City or the population of Chicago two times over. Just last year an estimated 2,000 people in Arizona alone died from fentanyl related overdoses. That is a death rate of 26.8 people out of every 100,000 residents. In the first four months of 2022, almost 700 people in Arizona have overdosed on opioids, and of that 700, just under 200 have died from their overdose. There are no projections of this slowing down.
Additionally, fentanyl is not only being introduced to people from illegal manufacturers. In 2015 nearly 6.5 million prescriptions for fentanyl were written an, in 2018, roughly 4 million fentanyl prescriptions were sold to people they were not prescribed to. These prescriptions combined with the illegally manufactured fentanyl have led to fentanyl overdoses far outpacing other prescription opioids by 550.94%.
While historically the lethality of fentanyl has been high, in more recent years, research has shown that the mortality rate linked to fentanyl use has increased by 63%. In Arizona alone, the mortality rate has jumped 28.5% in the last few years. There is no projection of this increase slowing down either. In some ways, fentanyl is the perfect storm of lethality. It is extremely deadly in small quantities and many times the people who take it don’t even know that they have done so. Consequently, when they begin to overdose, they and the people around them have no idea what is happening to them.
Signs of Fentanyl Overdose
Fentanyl overdose is not only dangerous, it is DEADLY. If you believe you or somebody else is experiencing an overdose, stay with them and CALL 911.
This is why it is so important for people struggling with substance use disorders, their families, and all people to understand the signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose. Listed below are some of the most common signs of a fentanyl related overdose:
- Constricted pupils (black, middle of the eye is small)
- Blue-ish lips
- Uneven, labored, gurgling breathing
- Seizure-like activity, convulsions (the body is shaking uncontrollably)
- Foaming at the mouth
- Confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea
- Total unresponsiveness
While these are not the only symptoms of overdose, these are some of the most common that should be watched out for. They can appear all together, or separately. Regardless of if you believe that you or a loved one has actually taken fentanyl, if you are experiencing the symptoms above, you should immediately seek medical help by calling 911, or getting the affected person to the nearest hospital.
Responding to a Fentanyl Overdose
Knowing how to respond to an overdose is a skill that we hope you never have to use, but one that everyone should be prepared with should the situation arise. It is rare that a person should die immediately of a fentanyl overdose. The process of dying from overdose can take anywhere from from minutes to hours. If you believe that somebody is overdosing on fentanyl, you must act immediately. This is a life or death situation. Below we have listed the steps that will give an overdosing person the best chance at survival:
Step One: Administer Narcan/ Naloxone if Available – If you or the overdosing person have Narcan available, follow the directions on the package and administer it to the overdosing person following those directions. There are three main forms of Narcan and Naloxone. It comes in an EpiPen-like casing that auto-injects into the thigh, nasal spray, or a drawable syringe needing to be injected into the muscles on the upper thigh or arm.
TOP TIP TO SAVE A LIFE: Since 2017, Naloxone and Narcan are available to ALL Arizonans at ALL pharmacy locations. While you may not think you will need it, many fentanyl related opioid deaths are complete accidents. Picking up a dose “just in case” can be the difference between life and death for you or a loved one. Make sure you and those you love know where to find that dose in case the need arises.
Step Two: Call 911 – Do not panic. The overdosing person needs medical help now. Many people are afraid to call 911 if a friend is overdosing, fearing that they may get into legal trouble should the police also arrive. That being said, in most states, including Arizona, there are laws that protect against prosecution in the case of people calling for help during an overdose. Call 911 and know that you both are safe and help is on the way.
Step Three: Check for Responsiveness – Can the person talk to you? Are you able to rouse their attention at all? Try calling their name loudly and giving them a gentle shake. If they remain unresponsive, you may also try rubbing your knuckles roughly against their chest. This is called a sternal rub and is often used in the medical field for similar purposes. The person receiving the sternal rub should react as though they are in pain. This is a good sign.
NOTE: If a person is seizing, DO NOT put your hands in their mouth. They will not swallow their tongue, but they may bite you hard enough to break your fingers. Clear the area, put something soft beneath their head, and make sure they are safe. Do not hold them down.
Step Four: Check for Breathing – Is the person breathing? If the person does not respond to the sternal rub, they may not be breathing. Check for breath and, if they are not breathing, it is time to administer rescue breaths. Turn the person onto their back, tip their chin upwards and pinch their nose, put your mouth over theirs completely, and give them one breath every five seconds.
Step Five: Stay with Them – 911 should respond shortly, but until then it is important to stay by the overdosing person’s side and do what you can to care for them. This might be rescue breathing, and if they regain consciousness, this will be rolling them onto their side into fetal position and keeping them safe until help arrives.
Step Six: Inform 911 & Take a Breath – When 911 arrives, inform them of the person’s name, what other drugs they may have taken, and any other information they might need. After this, be sure to take care of yourself. This situation is not only traumatic for the person overdosing, but for the person rescuing them.
As is the case with any emergency, there may be a number of factors that we are unable to account for here. However, we hope that if you ever find yourself in this situation, that you might feel more prepared to lend a helping hand to a person who desperately needs it. You could save somebody from becoming the next statistic.
Fentanyl Treatment at Pinnacle Peak Recovery
Pinnacle Peak Recovery offers people struggling with substance use disorders the chance to break away from their addictions and begin their paths to recovery. Because we know that it can be difficult to go it alone, Pinnacle Peak has highly trained and compassionate staff on call 24/7 to watch out for the physical and mental health of all of our patients.
At Pinnacle Peak Recovery we offer specialized fentanyl addiction treatment options. We offer round the clock care during detox in order to assure that our patients are as comfortable as they can be during the difficult detox process. Our team of medical professionals may also choose to prescribe medications in order to make the detox and withdrawal process smoother both physically and mentally. Our fentanyl detox process usually lasts from five to seven days.
Additionally, we offer different rehabilitation options. We have both inpatient and intensive outpatient treatments that will be recommended to our patients based on their progress and history of substance use. During a patient’s time at Pinnacle Peak they can take part in many of our therapeutic programs which include evidence based psychological practices like dialectical behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, or a number of other options including equine therapy, yoga, and even experiential therapy.
Connect with Pinnacle Peak. Connect with Recovery.
From massive drug stings where hundreds of pounds of fentanyl are discovered, to devastating national statistics, it seems like fentanyl has not been able to stay out of the news. That being said, behind every single one of these stories is a person whose life was cut short due to a fentanyl overdose. Stories of mothers finding their teenage daughters too late and first-time users taking too much of a drug they didn’t even know they were taking bring the reality of fentanyl and opioid addictions starkly into reality.
At Pinnacle Peak Recovery, we understand that recovery from substance use disorders is not just about restoring quality of life, it is also about saving lives. Waiting to get treatment can be the difference between life and death, especially those struggling with opioid addictions. We are here to help. If you or a loved one are struggling with fentanyl, opioids, or other illicit substances, don’t wait to get help. Our staff is waiting right now to give you the judgment free, quality care that you deserve. Call Pinnacle Peak Recovery today at: 866-377-4761