If you’ve heard about the opioid epidemic — which is one of the major contributors to the deaths of despair we’re seeing today — but haven’t had it personally affect you in any way, take a look at this recent study. It found that fentanyl was detected in the toxicology reports of nearly two-thirds of the 196 people who died from opioid overdose in Massachusetts from October 2014 to March 2015. Of these deaths, 82 percent involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl and 90 percent had no pulse when the EMT showed up (aka rapid death).
Researchers also interviewed 64 adults who had used opioids in the past year and had experienced or observed an overdose in the past six months. From these interviews the researchers learned that 75 percent of the participants had administered or observed the administration of naloxone, which resulted in a successful reversal of overdose. (1)
What Is Fentanyl?
You may be wondering, exactly what is fentanyl? You may recall that the pop singer Prince succumbed to a fentanyl overdose. Similar to morphine, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever. However, it’s 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. As a prescription drug, it’s used to treat patients with severe pain, maybe as a result of surgery or cancer, or those with chronic pain. Given its potency, it’s the strongest opioid available for medical use.
Fentanyl binds to the body’s opioid receptors, which are the areas of the brain that control pain and emotion. When opioids bind to dopamine receptors, they may create feelings of euphoria and relaxation. However, fentanyl can also cause dangerous side effects.
Fentanyl prescription names include Actiq®, Duragesic® and Sublimaze®. Street names for fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT and Tango and Cash. As a prescription, fentanyl is usually administered as an injection, a transdermal fentanyl patch or as a lozenge. On the street, it’s sold as a fentanyl powder, spiked on blotter paper, mixed with or substituted for heroin or as a tablet. People may snort, swallow or inject it or absorb it into their mucous membranes through spiked blotter paper. (2)
If you’re shocked to read all of the above, join the club. The widespread use and abuse of fentanyl is startling.
16 Dangers of Fentanyl and the Fentanyl Patch
Because fentanyl is so powerful, even a small amount can be deadly. In fact, according to the DEA, just 0.25 milligrams can be fatal. (3) Opioids such as fentanyl affect the brain’s receptors that control breathing rates. High doses of fentanyl can cause breathing to stop, leading to death.
Even more dangerous is the fact that fentanyl sold on the street is sometimes mixed with heroin or cocaine, making it even more potent and deadly. (4) Because this drug is so powerful that even small amounts can kill, federal police in Canada are now carrying naloxone nasal spray to reverse overdose effects should officers come in contact with the drug while on duty. (5)
Even those who are using fentanyl patches with a prescription can be at risk for addiction. They may not abuse the drug, but their body becomes physically addicted, making it difficult to stop using the drug. And, for those who do get hooked, moving on to other street drugs, whether fentanyl or other opioids, is a danger.
Because opioids are so strong, particularly fentanyl, withdrawal must be monitored through tapering off the drug with your doctor’s guidance, rather than quitting it “cold turkey.” The fentanyl patch delivers the drug in an extended-release format, over the course of 72 hours. Fentanyl half-life lasts 17 hours and withdrawal symptoms usually begin around a day or so after removing the patch. (8)
Medication treatments such as buprenorphine or methadone may be prescribed to help guard against relapse. Research has shown that patients taking these medications are 50 percent likely to relapse. (9)
Opioid withdrawal symptoms may last a week or they may last up to a month. Symptoms of acute opioid withdrawal include: (10)
- Low energy, irritability, anxiety, agitation, insomnia
- Runny nose, teary eyes
- Hot and cold sweats, goosebumps
- Muscle aches and pains
- Abdominal cramping, nausea, diarrhea
After acute withdrawal comes the second stage of withdrawal, known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). The symptoms of PAWS may last up to two years. The most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms include: (11)
- Mood swings
- Variable energy
- Low enthusiasm
- Variable concentration
- Disturbed sleep
It’s important to be patient with yourself while going through PAWS; take one day at a time. Practice self-care and find ways to relax, maybe through exercise or hobbies. It’s really important to find ways to relax as dealing with the ups and downs of PAWS can trigger a relapse if you’re not careful. Try relapse prevention strategies to stay focused on recovery. (12)
8 Natural Pain Relievers
Given the dangers of opioid drugs, especially fentanyl and the fentanyl patch, what other options are there for pain relief? In fact, there are actually quite a few safe natural painkillers available for easy home remedies.
If your pain level is mild, you may find that exercising a little each day will help you feel better because the body releases endorphins. These endorphins are natural opiates — they are the “feel-good” chemicals the body releases. Exercising, eating healthy and laughing more can all help boost these natural opiates.
Try some of these natural painkillers the next time you have a headache, muscle ache, backache or other mild to moderate pain:
Magnesium helps relieve inflammation and is known improve symptoms of fibromyalgia and migraine headaches, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A soothing way to boost magnesium levels, relieve stress, eliminate toxins and reduce inflammation is to soak in an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate and is affordable and easy to find at your local drugstore.
2. Essential oils
Many essential oils can help relieve pain symptoms. Arnica oil helps ease inflammation and can be useful to treat anything from bruises to carpal tunnel syndrome. Peppermint oil is a natural painkiller with muscle-relaxant properties. Lavender oil acts as a relaxant. Both peppermint oil and lavender oil can help relieve headache symptoms.
3. Massage and myofascial release
Not only is deep tissue massage relaxing, but it also relieves pain and discomfort. In fact, this is the primary goal, with the intention of improving the body’s ability to heal itself. In deep tissue massage, the deep layers of the body are manipulated. Benefits of deep tissue massage include treating chronic back pain; reducing stress, anxiety and muscle tension; help with labor pain and delivery; and reducing arthritis symptoms.
4. Graston technique®
What if a noninvasive therapy using stainless steel instruments helped to relieve your pain? The Graston technique can do just that. Bodily issues such as neck pain, muscle pain and fibromyalgia can all be treated using this instrument-assisted manipulative therapy.
5. Osteopathic manipulative therapy
Osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT or OMM) techniques include chiropractic adjustments, active release technique, myofascial release, visceral techniques and lymphatic pumping. A doctor of osteopathy performs this therapy, which can relieve chronic muscular pains, frequent headaches and migraines, loss of functionality, TMJ, carpal tunnel syndrome, trouble sleeping and breathing problems.
6. Dry needling
Dry needling involves the insertion of needles into muscles, ligaments, tendons, subcutaneous fascia and scar tissue to stimulate a specific trigger point that is leading to pain and disability. This needling releases tight muscle bands that are associated with trigger points or hard “knots” within a muscle that can cause pain over a large area.
Similar to dry needling, acupuncture involves using needles to stimulate specific points on the body. Acupuncture differs in that thin needles are inserted into these points to help balance the flow of what Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) calls Qi, or life force energy. It’s a pain-free process that can soothe chronic pain, relieve headaches and back pain, eliminate insomnia and help speed up recovery from cancer treatments and chemotherapy.
You may be surprised to learn that a molecular compound found in cayenne peppers — known as capsaicin — can help relieve pain. In fact, capsaicin aids in pain relief, decreases incidences of cluster headaches, and may be beneficial in treating cancer. You can add cayenne pepper to meals for not only a spicy kick, but also a natural pain reliever. Capsaicin is also available in supplement form.
8. Bone broth
A cup of chicken soup can do more than heal your soul — in fact, bone broth can heal leaky gut, as well as boost the immune system and aid in relieving arthritis pain. Bone broth contains many needed minerals that the body can easily absorb, including calcium and magnesium. It also contains healing compounds like collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine.
Although fentanyl and the fentanyl patch can be beneficial in treating severe or chronic pain, it must be approached with caution and awareness given its highly addictive properties. On the streets, heroin and cocaine may be laced with fentanyl, leading to a greater high, but also a much greater risk of overdose and death.
Keep your health provider informed if you find yourself becoming hooked on fentanyl or the fentanyl patch. Seek out help from your doctor or a treatment center to taper off fentanyl and cope with withdrawal symptoms. Knowing how potent and dangerous this drug is could save your life, or the life of a loved one.