The widespread opioid crisis has affected millions of people in the United States. It seem as if everyone has a friend, family member or coworker who has experienced opioid addiction. There is currently a nationwide effort to curb the abuse of opioids, but combating these dangerous drugs will be an uphill battle.

One of the drugs that has significantly contributed to the opioid crisis is fentanyl. Many people had not heard of this powerful medication until recently, but it has been around for many years– and is one of the main culprits of the current crisis.

Understanding fentanyl

Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid. Its makeup is similar to morphine–except fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful. Generally, fentanyl must be prescribed by a doctor due to its potency and addictive qualities. It is usually used to treat pain after surgery, although it is also prescribed to patients who have severe or chronic pain.

Over the past several years, many doctors began over-prescribing fentanyl for patients whose conditions did not necessarily warrant it. As a result, the rate of fentanyl dependency spiked. Underground laboratories began selling non-pharmaceutical variations that are often ingested as a pill, powder or mixed with cocaine and other street drugs.

The effects of fentanyl

Fentanyl binds to the body’s opioid receptors, producing feelings of intense euphoria. The high that fentanyl induces can be even stronger than that of heroin. Aside from its strong addictive qualities, fentanyl poses another serious threat. Because the brain’s opioid receptors are in the same area of the brain that controls breathing, high doses of fentanyl can cause the user to suddenly stop breathing. In addition, the drug’s strength poses a significant risk of overdose, even in small amounts.

Criminal consequences

It is a sad reality that some addicts turn to crime in order to fuel their addictions. Possessing fentanyl without a prescription can have serious legal consequences, as does distributing or selling the drug. The penalties include fines, mandatory drug and alcohol counseling, probation and even jail time. Any Bay Staters who are struggling with fentanyl addiction are encouraged to seek treatment.