The opioid crisis has taken the lives of a staggering number of people across the United States. In San Francisco County, California, fentanyl overdose deaths are on the rise, affecting an increasing number of people each year.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, like morphine or heroin, that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than other opioids. As a prescription medication, healthcare providers use it to treat patients who are experiencing severe pain, such as advanced cancer patients, or to help patients manage pain after surgery. Some of the common prescription names for fentanyl are Sublimaze®, Duragesic®, and Actiq®.
People also make and use fentanyl illegally, often mixing it with other drugs, such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA, because it is less expensive to produce. Common street names for fentanyl include China White, Goodfellas, and Jackpot.
Mixing fentanyl with other drugs is a dangerous practice because a person may not realize that the drugs have been laced with fentanyl, so they may use more potent opioids than they intended. This can result in an accidental overdose or death by accidental overdose.
How Does Fentanyl Addiction Affect the Body?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that fentanyl binds to the brain’s opioid receptors, which control a person’s pain and emotional responses. This can cause a person to feel extremely happy, drowsy, or confused, while the physical effects of fentanyl might include nausea, constipation, or trouble breathing. Taking too much can heighten all these effects to a dangerous extent, which can lead to overdose.
“[Using fentanyl] clearly can compromise respiratory function, and that is really the start of the accidental overdose cascade,” said Dr. Michael Hooten, a pain management specialist at Mayo Clinic.
When an individual is struggling with fentanyl abuse, the brain becomes less sensitive to the drug and needs more of the substance to experience the same effects. They may also suffer from withdrawal symptoms as quickly as a few hours after they last took fentanyl, including:
- Extreme cravings for fentanyl
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Cold flashes and goosebumps
- Uncontrollable leg spasms
- Muscle and bone pain
These symptoms can be incredibly overwhelming and distressing, making it very challenging to stop taking fentanyl without professional help. A person who is addicted to fentanyl will continue to use or seek the drug even if it is negatively affecting their life or their relationships with others. This can cause them to act out in ways they normally never would. When addiction occurs, the disease, not the person using the substance, is in control.
Fentanyl Overdose Deaths on the Rise in San Francisco
Fentanyl addiction does not discriminate based on location, socioeconomic background, race, or gender. The warm, bright communities of San Francisco County, California, have also faced the adversity of the opioid epidemic, with 593 emergency department visits related to opioid overdoses and 147 opioid overdose deaths in San Francisco in 2018.
San Francisco has also seen a steady rise in fentanyl overdose deaths each year. The San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) found that fentanyl overdose deaths increased from fewer than 10 in 2014 to 89 in 2018 and 39 in the first quarter alone of 2019.
The SFDPH says that, in San Francisco, fentanyl is most commonly sold as a white or lavender powder rather than mixed with other drugs so that it can be injected or smoked. That’s why most fentanyl overdose deaths in the Bay Area occur among people who know that they are using fentanyl, although the SFDPH says that there are cases of cocaine and methamphetamine laced with fentanyl and counterfeit pills.
However, just because a person knows that they are using fentanyl does not mean that they aren’t facing a formidable battle with addiction. And that battle can sometimes lead to a tragic end if an individual is unable to get the help they need in time.
How to Find Help for Fentanyl Use
Because fentanyl is such a potent substance, it is critical to find help for fentanyl use and addiction before you or someone you love experiences any long-term harm. Making the decision to get help for fentanyl addiction might feel overwhelming, but it only takes one small step to start your recovery journey.
If you or your loved one is struggling with fentanyl abuse, long-term recovery is possible through comprehensive, evidence-based treatment. A successful addiction recovery program may include services such as:
- Detoxification – Detox can help you rid your body of fentanyl without experiencing distressing cravings and painful withdrawal symptoms.
- Residential program – Residential treatment allows you to step away from the distractions and stressors of daily life so that you can focus on getting well.
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – The combination of prescription medication and counseling can help you make the behavioral changes needed for long-term recovery.
- Long-term recovery program – There is no standard time frame for recovery from fentanyl addiction. Long-term recovery programs provide the opportunity to heal at your pace.
- Continuing care – When it’s time to transition out of treatment, it’s crucial to have the resources and support you need to continue your recovery journey.
Waiting to get treatment for fentanyl addiction can be fatal when such a powerful substance is involved. If you or someone you care about is struggling with fentanyl abuse, there is hope. Compassionate, effective addiction treatment programs can help you or your loved one start living the life you deserve.