Fentanyl has caused a spike in opioid overdoses in the past few years. The opioid epidemic has steadily gotten worse over the past decade, partly because of the increased availability of potent drugs like fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Because of its potency, a small amount can be a powerful dose that makes it cheaper to produce and easier to transport. Fentanyl is used in hospital settings as a treatment for moderate-to-severe pain. However, it’s also produced in secret laboratories and trafficked to the U.S. in 2017, more than 28,400 overdose deaths involved fentanyl.

As an opioid, fentanyl can cause chemical dependence and addiction. However, it’s so powerful, it can be deadly in doses as light as a snowflake (3 milligrams). Doses that small are difficult for untrained illicit dealers to measure out accurately. Plus, fentanyl is often added to heroin without the user’s knowledge. The drug can increase the perceived quality of heroin that has been adulterated with an inert substance to stretch profits. People who take heroin without knowing there is fentanyl in the mix might overdose. Encountering fentanyl on the street is just as likely to lead to overdose as addiction. However, if you take a small enough dose, it can cause a severe substance use disorder.

What Are the Signs of Fentanyl Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease that primarily affects the reward center of the brain. It’s officially diagnosed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a severe substance use disorder. Addiction often comes after a period of abuse and may occur alongside chemical dependence.

Though it’s a chronic disease, addiction can be treated with the right medical and psychotherapeutic approaches. The disease can develop over time before you realize there’s a problem. However, recognizing the signs of opioid and fentanyl addiction in yourself or someone else can help you get the help you need as soon as possible.

Opioids like fentanyl can act as depressants in the body. Acute intoxication will cause clear physical signs like sedation, euphoria, loss of motor control, itchiness, fatigue, and loss of consciousness. Overdose signs can include shallow breathing, unconsciousness, difficulty waking, and slow heart rate. Addiction can cause some physical and behavioral signs even when a person is not experiencing acute effects. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Stange sleep schedule
  • Isolation
  • Changes in a friend group
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Hiding drugs
  • Lying about drug use
  • Trying and failing to cut back
  • Legal issues
  • Problems at work or school

How Is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?

Fentanyl addiction can be treated as any opioid use disorder. Addiction treatment involves personalized treatment plans that address physical, psychological, and social needs. Treatment often starts with medical detox, which involves 24 hours of medical care. It’s usually reserved for people that will likely go through severe withdrawal symptoms.

Opioids don’t typically cause dangerous withdrawal, but it can be extremely unpleasant. It may also complicate other medical needs. After detox, you may go through other levels of care, including inpatient, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment.

Through each level of care, treatment will be tailored to your needs. You may go through a variety of therapy options like individual, group, and family therapy.

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