Fentanyl and its Devastating Impact on Communities
The Extent of the Opioid Epidemic
From 2000 to 2015, the rate of deaths in the United States from drug overdoses nearly tripled from 6.2 to 16.3 per 100,000. Almost all U.S. counties experienced a rate increase during that time frame. Sixty percent of counties saw increases at least on par with the national figures, and 43 percent had even higher spikes. Startlingly, more people now die from overdoses than from shootings and automobile accidents combined. The majority of these deaths result from opioids, as prescription and illegal opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999.
More than three-fourths of U.S. counties had an overdose death rate of at least 10 per 100,000 in 2015, and almost one-third had a rate of at least 18.1. Of all counties with an above-average rate, about two-thirds were in rural regions, 16 percent were in small metropolitan areas, 13 percent were in suburbs, and six percent were in urban areas. These percentages largely reflect the number of counties in each geographic category, seemingly indicating an even random distribution.
However, more detailed data show that urban counties are more likely to be among those having a death rate of 18.1 or higher. About half of urban counties fell into this category; in contrast, less than a third of the other types of counties did so. Along these lines, 41 percent of overdose deaths happened in urban counties, compared to 26 percent in suburbs, 18 percent in small metros, and 15 percent in rural areas. This hardly means that rural counties have gotten off lightly, as they accounted for nearly three-fourths of all counties with high to severe increases in overdose death rates.
How Fentanyl Fits into the Opioid Epidemic
Fentanyl is an opioid pain reliever first synthesized in 1960. It is far more potent than other common opioids, including up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is normally used to treat severe pain, pain after surgery, or patients who have developed tolerance to other opiates. Prescription forms of the drug include injections, patches, and lozenges, but it is also produced illicitly in clandestine laboratories and marketed in powder, pills, or blotter paper. People can develop an addiction after taking a medication as prescribed, but teenagers, for whom fentanyl is rarely prescribed, may gain access to a parent or relative’s prescription.
Like other opioids, fentanyl produces euphoria and relaxation by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and releasing dopamine in its reward areas. Unfortunately, while these receptors are located in the parts of the brain that control pain and emotions, they are also in the parts that control breathing. Consequently, high doses of opioids, especially ones as potent as fentanyl, can stop breathing and cause death. Illicitly produced fentanyl may be mixed with other street drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, thus amplifying the effect and risk.
Prevention and Treatment
Accordingly, a first step in prevention is keeping prescription medications locked away so that they are not accessible by children. Keeping track of how much medicine you have consumed will help you know if any is missing. It is important just to simply talk to your kids about prescription abuse and the risks involved. Listen for use of common street names for fentanyl, which are listed below.
- China Girl
- China White
- Dance Fever
- Murder 8
You will also want to be able to recognize the below-listed common signs and symptoms of fentanyl use.
- Difficulty walking
- Muscle stiffness
- Slowed/altered heart rate
- Labored breathing
- Dizziness, light-headedness, and fainting
- Slurred speech
- Weight loss
- Visual hallucinations
- Nausea and vomiting
- Itching and scratching
- Pinpoint pupils
Getting off of opioids can involve severe withdrawal symptoms, and medical treatment is necessary to do this comfortably and safely. Because opioid addiction is a serious disease with a high relapse rate, it is critical to get adequate support from an appropriate treatment program. Options include support groups and outpatient or inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment is often needed for detox and severe cases.
While the opioid epidemic is broadly felt and one of the major crises of our times, you can safeguard your family with knowledge about prevention and treatment. Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center (800-275-1707) in Agoura Hills, California is equipped to treat addiction and any co-occurring mental health or behavioral issues. They will provide an individualized treatment plan based on your child’s needs, and they accept insurance.