Fentanyl, a new player on the streets hailing largely from Mexico and China, has killed hundreds of illicit opiate users since its use skyrocketed in 2013, according to NBCNews.com.

Fentanyl Hits The Streets

The Drug Enforcement Administration says it also poses a “grave threat” to first responders, law enforcement officers, including canine officers, Emergency Medical Services personnel and SWAT Team members. Most notably, it has been found to be present on scores of crime scenes, endangering the lives of anyone who may come into contact with it. It can be unwittingly inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. Fentanyl is used as part of anesthesia to help prevent pain after surgery or other medical procedures, according to Drugs.com. The article further outlines:

Several medications interact with fentanyl and can cause a serious condition called serotonin syndrome.

If you take medicine for depression, mental illness, Parkinson’s disease, migraine headaches, serious infections, or prevention of nausea and vomiting, ask your doctor before making any changes in how or when you take your medications. Prescription drug treatment continues to be the most common admittance to a drug rehab.

  • any type of breathing problem or lung disease;
  • history of head injury or brain tumor;
  • liver or kidney disease;
  • slow heartbeats;
  • if you use a sedative like Valium (diazepam, alprazolam, lorazepam, Ativan, Klonopin, Versed, Xanax, and others); or
  • if you have used an MAO inhibitor (isocarboxazid, linezolid, methylene blue injection, phenelzine, rasagiline, selegiline, tranylcypromine) in the past 14 days.

Fentanyl and Substance Abuse

Since many substance abusers may also be struggling with other health or mental health issues, it is quite possible they may already be taking some of these medications. It can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes. And because dealers cut other drugs with it, fentanyl is often a hidden menace NBCNews.com says.

Drugs Mixed With Fentanyl

The sharp increase of the main correlating drug used, or cut with fentanyl, heroin, is said to be on the rise at an alarming rate. Prescription painkillers still account for the largest bulk of fatal drug overdoses in Louisiana and nationally. But a 2011 study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that the number of people who reported using heroin in the United States doubled to more than 600,000 in eight years, cites Michelle Hunter of NOLA.com.

The results are staggering. Users become addicted to opiate medications and then later turn to the streets. In the article, Jefferson Parish Deputy Coroner Granville Morse said the new wave of heroin addicts includes prescription drug users who have turned to the illicit narcotic for a more powerful, more affordable high that is actually easier to obtain. More notably, As tougher enforcement made prescriptions more difficult to obtain at doctors’ offices, users turned to street dealers, paying $20 to $35 per pill, Special Agent Terry Davis, spokesman for the DEA’s New Orleans office also stated in the article.

Psychology researchers weigh in with the same conclusions. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis published survey results in the May 28th Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry Journal 2014, citing in The Louisiana Weekly, that In the past, heroin was a drug that introduced people to narcotics, said principal investigator Theodore J. Cicero, Ph.D. But what we’re seeing now is that most people using heroin begin with prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet or Vicodin, and only switch to heroin when their prescription drug habits get too expensive.

Fentanyl and Addiction

The concept of addiction as a disease continues to grow, regardless of its origin. There are many theories, treatment plans, facilities and options available. With so much information, it can all seem confusing and overwhelming. In Evolution of Concept – But Not Action – in Addiction Treatment, Doctors Amelia M. Arria, PhD, and A. Thomas McLellanal, PhD, state that although there are similarities among individuals in the consequences they experience secondary to addiction, there is also a great deal of heterogeneity in the order of core symptom expression and trajectory from use, to heavy use, to problematic (unhealthy) use, to abuse and dependence.

We know now that some of this course variability depends upon the personal characteristics of the individual, the presence of co-morbid psychiatric disorders, and the environmental context in which the individual lives (political, family, social resources, etc.).

While there are items on the market that may help in a opioid drug overdose, such as Naloxone, there is nothing to suggest it may be helpful if there is an opiate or heroin overdose combined with fentanyl. Do you know the signs?

The signs of an opioid emergency according to the company website may include:

  • Unusual sleepiness or unresponsiveness
  • Breathing problems, from slow or shallow breathing to not breathing at all
  • Very small or pinpoint pupils
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Fingernails or lips turning blue/purple

Without treatment in a rehabilitation center, an opiate dependent person may find themselves in such a situation again, with sometimes fatal consequences. Some states are now considering a three strikes campaign in which a person may receive assistance in the form of Narcan injection(s) three times, after which assistance will no longer be rendered.

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