Opioids (and primarily, synthetic opioids) are the main cause of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. In 2019, opioids were involved in nearly 50,000 overdose deaths. This amounts to more than 70% of all the drug overdose deaths in the country.
Fentanyl is a particularly potent synthetic opioid. Though it is available through prescription, it also can be diverted and abused. On top of that, it is manufactured in clandestine labs and sold illegally, sometimes without the user knowing that the drug they are taking has fentanyl in it.
Are you wondering what happens during a fentanyl overdose?
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a very powerful synthetic opioid. This painkiller is between fifty and one hundred times more potent than the opioid morphine. People who are addicted to fentanyl or abuse the substance are at a high risk of overdose.
This is a prescription drug that comes in a number of different forms. However, it is highly addictive and therefore can be misused by those who are prescribed it as well as those who aren’t.
Someone who abuses fentanyl might be misusing drugs that were prescribed to them or someone else. They also might be using fentanyl that was made in an illegal lab.
Using fentanyl is particularly dangerous for individuals who don’t have an opioid tolerance. While some people purposefully ingest fentanyl, others might take it unknowingly when other drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and MDMA contain fentanyl.
What Does Fentanyl Do to the Brain?
The way that fentanyl works is that it binds to the opioid receptors in a person’s body, just like morphine, heroin, and other opioids. These opioid receptors are found in the parts of the brain that deal with emotions and pain.
The brain gets used to taking the drug after a while, which leads to the individual having an increased tolerance. As the person becomes addicted to fentanyl, seeking out pleasure from the drug can completely take over their lives.
Some of the effects of fentanyl use include:
- Extreme happiness
- Problems breathing
Because of its potency, fentanyl is extremely addictive. Even a person who is taking fentanyl at the instruction of a doctor can become dependent on the drug. Dependency is characterized by the experience of withdrawal symptoms when the individual stops taking the medication.
When a person is dependent on a substance it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are addicted. However, addiction can be born out of a dependence.
When a person who is addicted to fentanyl stops taking the drug, they can experience withdrawal symptoms that are quite severe. These symptoms can happen within a few hours of no longer taking the drug. These symptoms include severe cravings, sleep problems, bone and muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea, and cold flashes with goose bumps.
Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms
There are a number of signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose that you’ll want to know about.
Overdosing on fentanyl can be lethal. It is therefore critical that you call 911 immediately if you believe that someone might have overdosed on this drug or any other opioid. There are a number of signs of a fentanyl overdose that you will want to look for if you suspect someone has overdosed, including:
- Weak muscles
- Pinpoint puils
- Profoundly slow heartbeat
- Loss of consciousness
- Very low blood pressure
- Bluish tint to nails and lips
- Dangerously slowed or stopped breathing
A person who is overdosing on fentanyl might also exhibit seizure-like activity or body stiffening. You might also notice them foaming at the mouth.
What Happens When You Overdose on Fentanyl?
When an individual overdoses on fentanyl, it can cause their breathing to slow or even stop. This means that there is less oxygen getting to the brain. This condition is known as hypoxia.
Hypoxia can cause a person to fall into a coma and can lead to permanent brain damage. It can even lead to death.
The first thing that will typically happen if a person overdoses on fentanyl is that they will become very sleepy. In fact, they will be difficult to wake up. Their breathing will become shallow and slow, they might make snoring sounds, and they could pass out.
At this point, the individual’s body might become limp. You might also notice that their face is clammy or pale along with their pulse being slow or weak.
People who have lighter skin might have their fingertips and lips turn blue. People who have dark skin might have the inside of their lips turn purple or blue.
Fentanyl Overdose Treatment
It can often be difficult to know which drug causes an overdose because drug dealers will commonly combine fentanyl with more expensive drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA.
Fentanyl overdoses can be treated right away with a medicine known as Naloxone. The way that it works is by blocking the effects of opioid drugs by rapidly binding to opioid receptors. However, fentanyl can require multiple doses of naloxone because it is stronger than other opioids such as morphine.
For this reason, it’s vital that you call 911 if you think someone has overdosed. This way, the individual can receive medical attention immediately. Medical personnel will be able to administer naloxone when they arrive if they believe that the person has overdosed on an opioid.
Naloxone comes in both nasal sprays and in an injectable solution.
Individuals who receive naloxone need to be monitored after the last dose for another two hours. During this time, it’s important to make sure that their breathing doesn’t slow down or stop.
In some states, people can buy nasal spray naloxone without a personal prescription. This allows family, friends, and community members to use naloxone if they see an individual overdosing on fentanyl or other opioids.
Fentanyl Overdose Amount: How Much Does It Take to OD?
Depending on a person’s body size, past usage, and tolerance, the amount of fentanyl that is lethal varies between people. However, the likelihood of a fatal interaction is increased when it is mixed with other drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine.
As mentioned above, fentanyl is often mixed in with other illicit drugs in order to boost the drug’s potency. This increases the likelihood of overdose and death.
People trying to purchase prescription medication illicitly can also end up taking fentanyl without knowing it. Clandestine labs produce pills that look like actual prescription opioids without quality control or official oversight. This means that these drugs can frequently contain lethal doses of fentanyl.
2 mg of fentanyl is considered a potentially lethal dose. The DEA has analyzed counterfeit pills and found that the amount of fentanyl in them ranged from .02 to 5.1 milligrams. This is more than twice the amount that is considered a lethal dose.
Of those pills tested, 42% of them had at least 2 mg of fentanyl in them.
Fentanyl Test Strips
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The influx of fentanyl into this country has unleashed tragedy onto countless American families. Fentanyl is a potent and dangerous drug that is potentially lethal. While all opioids are dangerous and should only be used when directed to do so by a medical professional, fentanyl’s strong potency makes the increasing use of this drug even more dire.
If you need to test patients through a fentanyl urine test, 12 Panel Now has the product for the job. Our fentanyl drug test can receive results within five minutes and has 99% accuracy. You can buy our fentanyl tests here.