Fentanyl Connection to Rising Overdose Deaths

Fentanyl overdoses have become increasingly common in the past year and are a contributor to the nation’s growing opioid epidemic. 

Table of Contents

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid prescribed to patients who are in severe pain when other painkillers are not effective. In recent years there has been an increase in fentanyl overdoses and deaths because it is being used illegally and in far greater doses than it would ever be prescribed. 

What Does It Treat?

Originally, this substance was created as a drug to treat the severe pain that accompanies chemotherapy for cancer patients. When this drug is prescribed by a doctor, it is commonly applied as a fentanyl patch that delivers the medication over a long period.

Fentanyl is only prescribed when severe tolerance has developed to other opioids as it is fifty to one hundred times stronger than morphine. In prescription form, it is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze, is in a class of medications known as narcotic (opioid) analgesics, and it is a Schedule II drug.

Street Names

Several street names refer to illegal fentanyl, or to drugs such as cocaine and heroin that are laced with the drug . Because of this aspect, fentanyl overdose amounts to most opiate-related overdoses today. These drugs are the most common causes of a fentanyl overdose, and they are known by the following street names:

  • Apace
  • China Girl
  • China Town
  • China White
  • Dance Fever
  • Goodfellas
  • Great Bear
  • He-Man
  • Poison
  • Tango & Cash 

Illegal Use

While some people illegally take straight the drug in pill or blotter form, most illegal fentanyl use occurs unknowingly. It is often added to heroin or cocaine without the buyer’s knowledge, and it is then snorted or injected.

This type of use has led to a massive surge in fentanyl overdoses in the past year. An increasing number of people have turned to alcohol and illicit substances to help them cope with the social isolation caused by the pandemic. The majority of illegal substances are now laced with this substance which has caused the DEA to issue its first public safety warning in over six years.

Carfentanil vs. Fentanyl

Carfentanil is even more potent than fentanyl, as it is nearly one hundred times more potent. It is another synthetic opioid that is most commonly used as an elephant tranquilizer, and it is believed that any amount can be fatal to humans. In recent years, carfentanil has begun appearing in street drugs commonly disguised as heroin.4  

The Dangers of Fentanyl

Illegal fentanyl is dangerous because even a few granules of the drug can cause a fatal respiratory reaction. It is so dangerous that first responders will not touch it without layers of PPE for fear that it will be absorbed through the skin.

It is impossible to overstate the dangers of purposely or accidentally ingesting, absorbing, or injecting this drug. A fentanyl overdose can occur within a minute of use, and the symptoms of an overdose can quickly become fatal. In many cases, help cannot arrive in time to stop the overdose from being fatal. 

Fentanyl Overdose Death on the Rise

In recent years, this substance has become a popular illicit street drug. When it is manufactured illegally it is often made into a powder or pill form so that it looks like other prescription drugs. As there is no process ensuring its safety, quality, or potency it is significantly stronger and less stable than prescription fentanyl. 

Fentanyl-Laced Drugs

Illegal fentanyl-laced drugs are the most common cause of fentanyl deaths and fentanyl overdoses. People rarely take this substance recreationally because the risk of overdose and death is so high.

Instead, most people who experience an overdose or overdose symptoms are due to another drug that they have taken, such as cocaine or heroin, that has been laced with fentanyl. 

What Are the Signs of Fentanyl Overdose?

Overdose symptoms can occur as soon as a minute after use, and the overdose can quickly become fatal if no intervention takes place. The most common fentanyl overdose signs are:

  • Severe drop in blood pressure
  • Drowsiness and difficulty in rousing
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, and fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Limp body
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Changes in pupillary size (pinpoint pupils)
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Blue colored lips and fingernails (cyanosis)
  • Severe respiratory distress
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

The “triad of symptoms” that first responders will immediately look for to determine a fentanyl overdose are pinpoint pupils, respiratory distress, and decreased consciousness or response to stimuli.5
Overdose signs occur rapidly, especially if it is used in conjunction with any other drug, alcohol, or illicit substance.  

Cross Reactions

Most other substances have a negative reaction to this drug. Some of the most significant reactions include:

  • Alcohol increases the potency of fentanyl and increases respiratory distress symptoms.
  • Xanax use increases the depression of the central nervous system which can quickly lead to coma or death.
  • Klonopin, also known as Clonazepam, is another CNS depressant that can interact badly with fentanyl. It can lead to respiratory distress, severely reduced heart rate and blood pressure, and even coma or death.
  • Ativan is another benzodiazepine that causes all the above symptoms when taken with fentanyl.  

Emergency Treatment for Overdose

The first and most important step is to call 911 as soon as possible if you suspect that someone may be overdosing. If the person has stopped breathing and you cannot detect a pulse and you know CPR, start performing it immediately until help arrives.

When first responders arrive, they will give the patient Naloxone, also known as Narcan, to try to stop the overdose. 

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Due to its potency, this drug is highly addictive. Fentanyl can stay detectable in your system for twenty-four to seventy-two hours in high enough amounts to show up on a urine test. It can be difficult to detox off it without medical intervention because of the severe side effects such as:

  • Severe muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Shakes, chills, and cold flashes
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Cravings for the drug 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Most patients who are weaned off fentanyl are done so in a medical environment under supervision. The doctor will usually prescribe methadone to help wean the patient without the more severe effects of withdrawal.

In many cases, once the patient has been successfully detoxed from the drug, they will then need to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy to help them learn to manage their triggers, stressors, and coping mechanisms so that they don’t relapse. 


Related Content

Gina Bowman

Executive Assistant

Gina Bowman is the Executive Assistant at Brooks Healing Center. She was born in Florida but resides in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with her husband, Tyler Bowman, and two daughters Charlotte and Isabella.

Gina is a friendly, loyal, and dedicated individual. She has a heart for helping others and understands the effects of addiction and the toll it can take on families. She is the one that helps make things happen behind the scenes and brings fun ideas to Brooks Healing Center as well as keeping things organized. 

Colleen Bradford, MBA, BA-MHR

Executive Director, Human Resources Director

Colleen Believes servitude towards others provides a solid foundation for personal and professional growth. She is a calm problem solver who juggles multiple situations simultaneously and works confidently and efficiently in even the most challenging, fast-paced environments. She is highly regarded for her consistent ability to apply sound judgment, emotional intelligence, and etiquette to sensitive, confidential, and unpredictable situations. She is an organized, professional, resourceful, and seasoned healthcare professional with diverse skills for boosting organizational productivity and quality of care initiatives.

Colleen has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration with a minor in health care administration from Trevecca Nazarene University. She has been married for 32 years to Doyle Bradford, and they have two sons, Thomas and Allen Bradford, along with two grandchildren, Ben and Faith Bradford. She is excited to have this unique opportunity to serve her community. She is a phenomenal cookie baker and mother figure to those at the Brooks Healing Center. We are honored to have her be a part of our vision. 

Frank Throneberry

Co-Founder and COO

Frank is a lifelong 7th generation native of Middle Tennessee. Frank cares for his local community and keeping Tennessee healthy, knowing that people all over the USA seek out his home state’s friendly and outdoor atmosphere. He is a hardworking and energetic person that is no stranger to going out of his way to help others.

Frank started his recovery from alcohol and substance abuse over seven years ago. He is continually working on a recovery program and became passionate about sharing his story, helping others, and supporting others to find freedom from their addiction. He also formerly owned and managed ‘recovery community’ homes where he walked with and encouraged many individuals in their journey. Frank’s servant attitude is what helps him listen, understand, and put others’ needs first.

Outside of his career, Frank cherishes his time with his wife, Maribeth, and his three children: Jackson, Piper, and Charlie. They enjoy the great outdoors on their family farm in Shelbyville, TN, and boating and fishing with family on Tim’s Ford Lake. He is a dedicated husband and father. 

James “Tyler” Bowman

Founder and CEO

Tyler is the heart of the Brooks Healing Center. His vision is to guide others to find their own recovery and to thrive in life. Tyler was fortunate to have lived through his addiction and now finds fulfillment in serving others. Tyler has worked in the substance abuse field for over five years and felt convicted to build a place where individuals are loved until they can learn to love themselves.  

Tyler has the love and support of his family as he continues to provide care to those who have lost themselves along the way. Tyler is the father of two daughters, Charlotte, his oldest, and Isabella, his youngest. Tyler’s wife, Gina, supports the Brooks Healing Center’s vision, and she shares his passion for helping others as well.  

Tyler has a story to tell and is willing to share his experiences, good or bad, with anyone. Brooks Healing Center is the way he gives back for all he took when he was using. For the past seven years, Tyler has gone beyond to share his recovery and is thriving in life.