01 Nov Addicted to Fentanyl
With the development of more prescription pain medications has come a growing dependence on those drugs. Patients with severe or chronic pain often heal faster when that pain is properly managed. That is one of the blessings of modern medicine. However, our ability to wisely prescribe and use these powerful drugs has not matched our ability to create them. That is why it is so important for patients to be well-informed about the drugs they use, even when those drugs have been prescribed by their physician.
What Is It?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate drug. That means that fentanyl is a man-made substance which produces the same results a person would normally get from taking drugs like heroin, morphine or Dilaudid. When fentanyl is prescribed the doctor’s order will be for medication under the name Duragesic, Actriq or Sublimaze.
Fentanyl is an analgesic. Analgesics are pain relievers. Some pain relievers don’t require a prescription. Aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be purchased without a doctor’s order. Fentanyl is a Schedule II drug, which means that its distribution is controlled by the federal government. Doctors must have a valid drug license in order to prescribe it and its use is monitored. It also means that the drug is potentially addictive.
How Does It Work?
Fentanyl controls a person’s pain by binding to receptors in the brain which govern emotion and pain. This binding stimulates the release of dopamine. Excess dopamine in the brain creates a feeling of relaxation and pleasure. Now, rather than registering pain, the brain registers a sedated experience of well-being. The drug may be taken as a lozenge, by injection or even through a patch worn on the skin.
What Are the Dangers?
Fentanyl is a controlled substance because it is potentially habit-forming. If the drug is used too long or in doses over the prescribed amount, a person can develop a tolerance for the drug. Tolerance leads to physical dependence on a drug because the person needs more drug in order to achieve the same physical response. With fentanyl, the person will need to take more of the medication in order to stimulate the same amount of dopamine release (pain relief).
Studies also show that prolonged use of powerful painkillers can actually increase a person’s sensitivity to pain. Thus, the feeling of pain may increase even while the amount of relief experienced decreases. In addition, the drug may deaden not only physical pain, but the person’s ability to find pleasure in life’s everyday activities as well. This is referred to as psychological dependency.
Because of the risks involved, fentanyl is usually only prescribed when other pain relievers fail to help. Cancer patients, for example, may be given fentanyl when morphine no longer brings relief. Use of drugs like fentanyl has been shown to result in depression for many patients. If a person wants to stop using fentanyl, they need to do so under the careful guidance of a medical doctor.
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