The drug that really is contributing to fueling the opioid epidemic in Southern California and across the United States is fentanyl. Fentanyl addiction, along with fentanyl overdose, is a major health problem in the country in this day and age. There are some specific facts we all need to understand when it comes to fentanyl addiction. 

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction 

There are some more commonplace signs that a person is laboring under fentanyl addiction. These symptoms are found when an individual is addicted to any type of opioid drug, including heroin or morphine. Typically, a person addicted to fentanyl will exhibit multiple signs. The more commonly experienced symptoms of fentanyl addiction include:

Confusion: When people abuse fentanyl and move towards an addiction to this drug, they tend to become increasingly more confused. In some cases, the level of confusion can become debilitating. Confusion can become so profound that a person addicted to fentanyl places his or her self in dangerous situations.

Depression: Although fentanyl is not a depressant drug, abuse of and addiction to this drug can result in depression, including severe depression. The onset of depression can create a vicious circle. Many people will increase their fentanyl use as a means of self-medicating and “combating” depression.

Difficulty walking: Many individuals laboring under a fentanyl addiction experience persistent difficulty in walking. This is not akin to people staggering when drunk on alcohol. Rather, because of fentanyl’s profound impact on an abuser’s or addict’s brain, signals from the brain to the legs can become “jumbled.”

Muscle stiffness: People addicted to fentanyl oftentimes experience muscle stiffness. Part of this may be attributed to impaired messaging between the brain and other parts of the body. However, it is also likely attributable (at least in part) to the fact that people abusing this drug simply do not move around much, if at all. This can result in intermittent or even more persistent muscle stiffness. 

There are a pair of symptoms of fentanyl use, abuse, and addiction that are particularly alarming:

  • Slowed or altered heart rate: Fentanyl can have a profound impact on an individual’s pulmonary system. In turn, this affect can slow or alter a user’s heart rate. In some instances, this slowing or alteration can result in a medical crisis for a person using fentanyl.
  • Labored breathing: Labored breathing is an indication that a fentanyl user, abuser, or addict is heading into a crisis situation. One of the effects of fentanyl is a slowing and ultimate cessation of lung activity and breathing. Fatal fentanyl overdoses typically involve suppressed and then a complete cessation of breathing.

Other signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction are:

  • Weakness.
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Shaking
  • Sleepiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Weight loss
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Scratching
  • Pinpoint pupils

Risk Factors for Fentanyl Addiction

The world-renowned Mayo Clinic has identified a set of risk factors that render a person more susceptible to fentanyl abuse and fentanyl addiction. Indeed, this listing of risk factors is applicable to the propensity for abuse of or addiction to other opioid drugs as well, including heroin. These risk factors are:

  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Young age
  • History of criminal activity or legal problems including DUIs
  • Regular contact with high-risk people or high-risk environments
  • Problems with past employers, family members and friends (mental disorder)
  • Risk-taking or thrill-seeking behavior
  • Heavy tobacco use
  • History of severe depression or anxiety
  • Stressful circumstances
  • Prior drug or alcohol rehabilitation

Avoiding the Prospect of Fentanyl Addiction: Managing Chronic Pain

As mentioned previously, fentanyl addiction arises in one of two ways. Fentanyl addiction occurs when people end up abusing appropriately prescribed fentanyl (or some other opioid painkiller). In other words, people begin using an opioid drug appropriately to control chronic pain but end up abusing it or become addicted to it. 

When it comes to taking a proactive stance against fentanyl addiction, a solid strategy is to avoid this painkiller all together if at all possible. Avoid a fentanyl prescription for chronic or continuous pain. When at all possible take advantage of non-opioid painkillers.

As an aside, the one type of situation in which fentanyl may prove to be the best (in some cases, only) painkilling alternative is when a person is afflicted with the brutal pain associated with stage four (end stage) cancer. For some patients, a drug with the power of fentanyl may prove to be the only painkiller that actually addresses the severe pain associated with such a condition. In such a situation, patients tend to be obtaining palliative care and very well may be at the final stages of their own lives. 

If you suspect a family member, friend, or colleague is laboring under an addiction to fentanyl, you must understand that this is a truly dangerous situation. Fentanyl is a very powerful, highly addictive, and extremely dangerous drug. A recommended course is to seek professional assistance in order to develop a strategy for intervention.