Fentanyl, The Myth & The Mayhem

In Florida, as well as all over the wide United States, the powerful narcotic, Fentanyl has been showing up in headlines left and right these days. First it was different prominent people dying from overdoses on the opioid drug. Prince died with a cocktail of substances in him, but one of the driving factors for the iconic musician’s tragic death was the presence of Fentanyl in the mix. But these days we are waking up to articles about not only fatal overdoses of those using the drug, but also ordinary people, especially first responders, at risk of coming into contact with Fentanyl and not knowing how to safely handle it. From police officers to prison guards, public servants and public responders of all kinds are learning that they have no idea how to deal with the drug when they come in contact with it. The drug can be dangerous in all of its various forms, but one of the ways it can be most dangerous is when it is in powder form and it comes into contact with your eyes,  or is breathed in through your mouth or nose.

According to The Associated Press (view the article), In an Ohio prison, thirty people had to be treated due to exposure to what is believed to be heroin and fentanyl. The prison was put on lock down and those affected were taken to the hospital. In sterling Massachusetts after responding to what was believed to be a fatal overdose, police were possibly exposed to large amounts of Fentanyl. They began to experience symptoms of dizziness and nausea. Stories like this are becoming more prevalent in everyone’s news feeds as the opioid crisis changes from a prescription pain pill crisis, to a specifically Fentanyl crisis. Opioids of all kinds are, of course, still incredibly dangerous, but the prevalence of Fentanyl combined with its potency is a crisis all on its own.

What is Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a kind of synthetic opioid. It has been used in states like Florida for years but mostly as prescription within medical procedures. Prescription opioids like codeine or vicodin are tenacious in their build of tolerance and addiction, but pale in comparison to Fentanyl. In fact Fentanyl is anywhere between 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine is.  In a clinical setting Fentanyl is often given to a patient to control chronic pain, or post surgery in order to prevent pain. It is also used as a sedative during some surgical procedures.

Prescription Fentanyl is often also called:

  • Actiq
  • Dragesic
  • Sublimaze

When combined with heroin it can also be called:

  • Apache
  • China Girl
  • China White
  • Dance Fever
  • Friend
  • Goodfella
  • Jackpot
  • Murder 8
  • TNT
  • Tango & Cash

Fentanyl was developed in 1960 as an anesthetic and pain reliever. In the 1990’s it became common to use it as a chronic pain reliever with the invention of the Fentanyl patch. It’s use has steadily grown overtime and with the explosion of the opioid epidemic has really come into prominence in the last decade.

The Myth and Mayhem

Fentanyl has changed the opioid epidemic that the average American who wasn’t dealing with chemical dependency and didn’t necessarily know anyone who was struggling with addiction, from something they remembered was a concern occasionally, or that sits in the back of their minds until some politician mentions it in their speech, to something so terrifying it has reached mythic proportions, in some ways, literally.

More and more people are found engaging with the high potency drug. The overdose rate is rising and those overdoses are frequently fatal. With this being true more and more of our first responders are coming in contact with the drug every day either via an overdosed patient, or when searching a person and finding the drug on them. Some first responders recently reported feeling the effects of the drug and needing to be treated just by brief skin contact. And due to the frequent news about the dangers of the drug, there’s a frantic tone in the way the health community and justice communities are talking about Fentanyl.

Recently the United States Department of Justice released the following video in hopes of dissuading first responders of the notion that they may die from simply touching the drug, fentanyl and also as a means to educate them about the possible ways they might protect themselves against the effects of the highly dangerous substance.

 

How Can Someone Protect Themselves

Knowing how to protect oneself first requires knowing how one might encounter Fentanyl. Whether the person is a police officer, emergency medical technician, a firefighter, or some other form of official service member, first responders are coming in contact with the drug more and more. What are the ways exposure to this extremely potent substance can be dangerous?

Exposure to Fentanyl Could Happen Through:

  • Injected into the veins
  • Injected into the muscle
  • Ingested
  • Breathed in
  • Skin Contact
  • Eye Membrane

 

A first responder, or anyone who comes in contact with Fentanyl need only take the proper precautions in order to remain safe and in most cases, unaffected, by the opioid drug.

Safety Measures To Take with Possible Exposure To Fentanyl:

Never:

  • Never Assume It’s Safe – if a first responder or other person encounters a substance like Fentanyl and are unsure of what it is, always assume that it could be dangerous.  
  • Never Taste It – Ingesting Fentanyl is one of the most common ways to administer the drug, not to mention a common way that first responders and others have accidental exposure to the drug.
  • Never Smell It – First responders in television or movies smell unknown substances all the time to try and identify them. Don’t do that. Your nostrils have some of the most sensitive bio-availability in the body. This is the same reason why people snort cocaine, it’s a quick way to get a drug into your body. Sniffing a substance that could be Fentanyl is a recipe for disaster.
  • Never Feel It – Though it is less likely that skin contact will cause an overdose or even greatly affect a person, prolonged skin contact can indeed cause some absorption of the drug. Some first responders have reported experiencing symptoms after only touching the substance.

Always:

  • Always Double Up When You Glove Up – Double your gloves for extra protection against this sensitive drug and as the Department of Justice’s video says, do not use hand sanitizer to clean your hands after exposure. It could hasten and worsen the effects of the drug.
  • Always Wear a Protective Breathing Mask – Fentanyl is at its most dangerous for first responders when it is airborne. If large amounts of Fentanyl are in powder form in the air or the environment, leave the situation immediately and alert the law enforcement and health officials immediately.
  • Always Protect Your Eye Membrane With Safety Goggles – In their video to first responders the United States Department of Justice warns against the exposure to your eye membrane though previously Canada’s Public Services Health and Safety Association said in a fact sheet they released that it was not  not verified that exposure via the eye could drastically affect a person. Either way, goggles will keep your eyes protected and better safe than sorry.
  • Always Know What You’re Looking For – The Department of Justice did the right thing by releasing a video to educate first responders about the dangers of fentanyl, both the mythology of the danger and the realities of it. The most important thing someone can do to keep themselves safe is to understand how to recognize the substance and how to recognize fentanyl intoxication in other people, as well as in themselves.

What Are The Numbers

Fentanyl overdose is sweeping the nation and making a name for itself separate from its other opioid cousins such as morphine, heroin, and oxycontin and other prescription pain pills. Whether a person is using the drug intentionally, suspects the drugs they’ve taken may have been laced with Fentanyl, knows someone who is using it, maybe they’ve even become sick enough to land themselves in the hospital, or whether the person is a first responder who ends up affected by accidentally ingesting or inhaling the drug,  it is important to know the real signs and symptoms of overdose from fentanyl.

Signs and Symptoms of Overdose

  • Severe exhaustion, lethargy, or sleepiness
  • Lack of response
  • May exhibit slow or relaxed breathing
  • Lips or nails may become bluish
  • Skin may become cold and clammy
  • Heart rate may slow
  • Pulmonary function may be inhibited
  • Pupils may become narrow like the head of a pin

It is also important to know what the current state of the problem of fentanyl is in the country. While we are seeing the opioid crisis respond to the growing national spotlight, Fentanyl is creating its own stir almost completely separate from the opioid epidemic as we know it. Watching opioid related deaths by drugs like heroin decrease, death by fentanyl is trending steadily upward. The Boston Herald states that the latest Department of Public Health data shows that though heroin is becoming less popular, the news is bittersweet because fentanyl users now trend to cocaine laced with fentanyl instead, and devastatingly, the fatal overdoses due to opioids are almost all related to Fentanyl.

According to the DPH’s quarterly report, the presence of fentanyl in opioid-related overdose deaths statewide reached an all-time high in 2017, with traces of the potent opioid found in 90 percent of such deaths; that alarming rate remained at 90 percent through the first quarter of this year. The figure represents a more than 100 percent increase since 2014, when fentanyl was present in 40 percent of overdose deaths, according to the DPH quarterly report.”

Treatment for Addiction

First responders can take all the precautions they want, but there is no safety from exposure to a drug if you are an addict. Those who have suffered from opioid addiction know the powerful tolerance that  opioids like heroin, vicodin, and morphine fosters in an addict. It’s even possible that someone who is knowingly exposing themselves to Fentanyl may have started in a doctors office due to some kind of pain, with a prescription to an everyday opioid, such as hydrocodone. The slope is a slippery one because the opioid attaches itself to the reward center of the brain and quickly becomes addictive. Chemical dependency happens swiftly. Addicts who have fought opioid addiction know how easily triggers leed to deep cravings. Fentanyl is powerful and dangerous. Anytime an addict is exposing themselves to an opioid they should be aware that it could be laced with Fentanyl. After all the DPH reported 90% of opioid related deaths involving fentanyl. But even if someone is taking the substance intentionally the drug is dangerous. One of the biggest mistakes a user can make is underestimating the consequences of taking Fentanyl.

Detox Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attack
  • Body Ache
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Profuse Sweating
  • Flu Like Symptoms
  • Large Pupils
  • Goosebumps

Treatment for a user in Florida who is addicted to fentanyl or any kind of opioid starts with detox in South Florida. Medically supervised detoxification is a necessary first step so that the addict can be in their right mind when working through any co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis, during their South Florida rehab.  If a user tries to detox on their own withdrawal from fentanyl can lead to extreme medical complications including even death. At a drug detox facility a medically qualified staff will be there to monitor your physical and emotional wellbeing.

When seeking out an addiction recovery center in Florida, FHE Health is an excellent option for anyone suffering from chemical dependency on alcohol or an illicit or prescription drug.  FHE offers a variety of comfortable amenities so the patient can focus on their recovery. Our professional, experienced staff will do everything in their power to ensure that every patient is well taken care of. If you or a loved one has an addiction to fentanyl, heroin, morphine, or any other opiates, call us right away to hear more about our opioid treatment programs and get started on the path to get substance abuse out of your home.

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