Fentanyl has become one of the most infamous and feared drugs in the world. It is a synthetic opioid substance that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and has become increasingly popular amongst drug users due to its availability and low cost. However, this dangerous drug can cause addiction very quickly, leading to serious health risks and a high chance of fatal overdose. In the US, there were 80,816 deaths from opioid overdose, the vast majority of which were due to fentanyl. While the UK has not yet seen the same levels of fentanyl use, it is crucial that anyone who is abusing fentanyl gets help as soon as possible.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl was originally developed in the 1960s as an anaesthetic drug. However, due to its painkilling effects (similar to but far more powerful than morphine), in the 1990s it began to be prescribed to manage chronic pain conditions with medical authorities underestimating its potential for abuse and addiction. Unfortunately, in recent years, fentanyl has become one of the most abused substances in the world, and in North America in particular, the damage fentanyl addiction and abuse have done to communities has been immense. In fact, in 2022, authorities seized enough fentanyl to kill the entire population of the US.
There are various reasons why fentanyl has become such a popular recreational drug. These include:
- Its availability on the black market where it can be bought in bulk and then sold
- Its potency – As little as 1mg of fentanyl can produce effects similar to far greater amounts of morphine or heroin
- Its ability to be easily mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine or MDMA to produce a more intense effect.
- Its price – Fentanyl costs a fraction of the price of other opioids
Due to its high potential for abuse and addiction, fentanyl is only available in the UK on prescription as patches, lozenges or oral soluble films.
How do you become addicted to fentanyl?
You can become addicted to Fentanyl both through legal means (e.g., a doctor’s prescription) and illegal drug use with most people these days developing an addiction through illegal use.
Prescription fentanyl addiction is a huge risk for anyone who takes the drug due to its potency and the potential for addiction. This is why it is so important to only take fentanyl as directed by your doctor and always ensure that you keep up with regular check-ups in order to monitor any changes or problems when taking this drug. Some people also begin abusing fentanyl after becoming addicted to another prescription opioid such as morphine and turning to street fentanyl when their opioid prescription ends and they are no longer able to obtain it.
Fentanyl addiction through illegal abuse can also occur in a number of ways. Some people take fentanyl knowing that is what they are taking but others may believe they are taking heroin or another drug. This is due to other drugs being “laced” with fentanyl or simply substituted for fentanyl because it is cheaper and provides dealers with a larger profit margin.
However you start taking fentanyl, the risk of addiction is very real and should not be taken lightly. The longer you take fentanyl, the higher your tolerance will become, leading you to need larger amounts for the same effect. At this stage, your body may have become so used to it that you experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop taking it which is known as dependence. Once you are dependent, full physical and psychological addiction is very likely and will require professional help and support to overcome.
Who is most at risk of developing fentanyl addiction?
Anybody who takes fentanyl is at risk of developing an addiction but there are certain groups that are more likely to become addicted. This includes those:
- with a pre-existing mental health condition who use fentanyl to self-medicate
- with a history of substance abuse or addiction
- who have easy access to fentanyl through their work (e.g., healthcare professionals)
- with chronic physical pain who use fentanyl as a cheap painkiller
- who have suffered trauma such as physical or sexual abuse
- who are exposed to substance abuse and addiction at a young age
Am I addicted to fentanyl?
To help identify if you or a loved one may be addicted to Fentanyl, here are some key signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Am I using more fentanyl than I was prescribed, or for a longer duration?
- Have I been going to multiple doctors to score multiple prescriptions of fentanyl?
- Do I use fentanyl for recreational purposes?
- Do I feel like taking fentanyl is the only way to cope with my everyday life?
- Have I tried to stop using fentanyl but failed due to cravings or withdrawal symptoms?
- Has my use of fentanyl led to health issues or problems in my life, job or relationships?
- Is my fentanyl use costing me a lot of money?
- Have I turned to other drugs when fentanyl has been unavailable?
It is very important that you identify these signs as soon as possible. Fentanyl overdose is a serious and ever-present risk because the amount required to be fatal can be so small. If you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these signs of fentanyl addiction, get in touch with Recovery Lighthouse today. We can provide you with the help and support needed to overcome your fentanyl addiction and start living a healthier, drug-free life.
What are the health effects of fentanyl abuse and addiction?
Physical health effects of fentanyl addiction:
- Serious respiratory issues
- Vomiting, nausea and constipation
- Slowed heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
- An increased risk of HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases due to sharing needles with others
Mental health effects of fentanyl addiction:
Other effects of fentanyl addiction
In addition to the health effects of fentanyl addiction, there are other risks that you need to be aware of. These include:
- Financial strain as a result of paying for fentanyl
- Legal issues related to the possession and/or distribution of fentanyl or due to crimes committed to fund fentanyl use
- Relationship issues due to dishonesty, secretive behaviour or mood/emotional swings
- Social isolation
- Issues at school or at work
- Changes in lifestyle due to drug use, such as neglecting relationships and hobbies
The three stages of fentanyl addiction treatment
There are three stages of treatment for fentanyl addiction:
Detox – This is when you stop taking fentanyl so that you can break the physical dependence on the drug and allow your body and mind to heal.
Rehabilitation – While detox helps you break the physical addiction, rehab helps address the psychological aspects of addiction. This includes counselling and therapy sessions to help you identify and understand the underlying causes of your fentanyl addiction and learn new ways of coping with life’s challenges without using fentanyl as a crutch.
At Recovery Lighthouse, we provide both of these stages as inpatient treatment. This is the most effective type of treatment for fentanyl addiction treatment as you will have no access to fentanyl and will be in a safe and secure environment with 24/7 support from our team of experienced and caring professionals.
Aftercare – After you complete the detox and rehabilitation stages, it is important to have an aftercare plan in place to prevent relapse when you leave our centre. Recovery Lighthouse provides one year’s free weekly group therapy to provide ongoing support and help you stay on track with your recovery goals.
Fentanyl addiction in the UK
While in the US, fentanyl has become the biggest killer of people between 18 and 45, in the UK it has not yet caused the same devastation. However, it is important to understand that fentanyl is an incredibly dangerous drug and that the UK is not immune from its effects.
One thing to look at is the number of deaths by fentanyl poisoning. As you can see from the following statistics, these numbers have been steady over the last few years:
- 2019: 59 deaths
- 2020: 57 deaths
- 2021: 58 deaths
While these numbers may seem low, you must consider that there is still relatively little fentanyl being abused in the UK which shows just how deadly it can be. This is why it is so important that the UK stays vigilant and continues to educate people about the dangers of fentanyl abuse and addiction.
How to get help for fentanyl addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with fentanyl addiction in the UK, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Recovery Lighthouse offers a comprehensive treatment plan that can help you get your life back on track and have a fresh start. Get in touch with us today and our admissions team will talk you through the process and answer any questions you have.