I don take small fentanyl, so no introduction today. Let’s get right into it.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse, is a powerful synthetic opioid. And just for clarity’s sake, opioids are a broad class of pain-relieving drugs that interact with the opioid receptors in the body’s cells to help with acute pain, such as the kind experienced after surgery.
When opioid medications travel through the blood and attach to the brain cell’s opioid receptors, the cells release signals that dampen pain perception and boost feelings of pleasure.
Opioids can either be made from the poppy plant — e.g. morphine — or they can be synthesized in a laboratory — like the fentanyl we’re talking about. In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by names such as Duragesic®, Actiq®, and Sublimaze®. Its street names include China Girl, Apace, Dance Fever, China Town, He-Man, Great Bear, China White, Goodfellas, Tango & Cash, and Poison.
Apart from being used as a prescription for patients with severe pain, fentanyl is also sometimes used to treat patients who experience chronic pain but have developed a physical tolerance to other opioids. This tolerance occurs when a patient needs a more frequent amount or a higher drug dosage than normal to get the desired effects. It is the first step towards addiction.
Fentanyl is similar to morphine, being that they are both opioids, but it is more dangerous because it is about 50-100 times more potent. Synthetic opioids have become the most common cause of drug overdose-related deaths in the United States, rising from 14.3% in 2010 to 59.8% in 2017.
How is fentanyl used?
Fentanyl, when prescribed by a doctor, can be given either as a shot, lozenges that are sucked like cough drops, or a patch that is put on a person’s skin.
The illegal version, which is the one most often associated with overdoses, is the synthesized one made in laboratories. It is either dropped onto blotter paper, put in nasal sprays and eye droppers, sold illegally in powder form or made into pills that look no different from other prescription opioids.
Also, because it takes just a small dosage to induce a high with fentanyl, making it a cheaper option, some drug dealers mix it with other hard drugs like cocaine, MDMA, heroin and methamphetamine. This is doubly risky, especially when people take the spiked drugs without realizing that they might contain fentanyl, and as a result, take stronger opioids than their bodies are used to, increasing the chance of overdosing.
Effects of fentanyl on the body
As mentioned above, fentanyl works just like morphine, heroin and other opioids by binding itself to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in brain sections that deal with emotions and pain. This is what makes it effective as a pain-relieving drug.
However, upon repeated exposure to opioids, the brain adapts to the drug; this diminishes its sensitivity and makes it hard to feel pleasure from anything asides from the drug.
Its effects include:
- extreme happiness
- pain relief
- nausea and vomiting
- pupil constriction
- urinary retention
- respiratory depression
- problems breathing
Opioids, at lower doses, may make you sleepy, but higher doses can slow your breathing and heart rate, leading to death. Also, the pleasure of taking the drugs can make you want to continue experiencing those feelings, which may lead to addiction.
Addiction is the most severe form of substance-use disorders (SUDs), which are characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use that are difficult to control despite harmful consequences. Someone addicted to drugs will continue using them even when the use causes health problems or issues at home, school or work. SUDs can range from mild to severe.
Someone on a fentanyl prescription, according to a doctor’s orders, can experience dependence, which is depicted by withdrawal symptoms after the dosage ends. It is possible to be dependent on a drug without getting addicted; however, dependence can lead to addiction sometimes.
People who become addicted to fentanyl and try to stop using it will experience withdrawal symptoms as early as a few hours after the last dosage. These symptoms include:
- sleep problems
- muscle and bone pain
- cold flashes with goosebumps
- diarrhoea and vomiting
- severe cravings
- uncontrollable leg movements
These symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and are why many people find it difficult to stop taking fentanyl.
Fentanyl in Nigeria
Last week, the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) announced that it uncovered plans to introduce fentanyl into the Nigerian market. The anti-narcotic agency, in a correct assessment of the drug’s threatening potential, warned that it is capable of causing mass casualty among the country’s youth, which is the demographic being targeted by cartels.
Femi Babafemi, the agency’s spokesman, said that every step must be taken to ensure that the drug is not allowed to circulate in Nigeria due to its lethality, as well as the current drug abuse prevalence in the country that sits at 14.4%.
“We are not unaware of desperate steps by some drug cartels to introduce fentanyl into the Nigerian market, which according to the CDC, is 80 times as strong as morphine and 100 times more potent than heroin. They plan to peddle it in either powder or liquid form targeted at our youth population and/or with misleading labels. The illegally manufactured fentanyl in its liquid form can come in eye drops, nasal sprays, or small candies, and they may also mix it with other prescription drugs.
“Therefore, parents and other stakeholders are urged to be alert and vigilant, and also warn their young ones against experimenting with this unlawful substance. Symptoms for exposure to fentanyl and/or overdose include dilated pupils, falling asleep or passing out, choking, slow and shallow breathing, pale, blue or cold skin, and a limp body.”
The Agency, however, assured the public that all necessary assets had been deployed to keep an eye on the cartels that are involved in this latest threat to public health.