Signs of fentanyl abuse, how to help someone who is dependent

A bag of evidence containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl disguised as Oxycodone is shown at a press conference led by US Attorney McGregor W. Scott at the Fresno County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday August 19, 2020 to raise awareness of the danger fentanyl as the number of fentanyl overdose deaths increases.

A bag of evidence containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl disguised as Oxycodone is shown at a press conference led by US Attorney McGregor W. Scott at the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday August 19, 2020 to raise awareness of the danger fentanyl as the number of fentanyl overdose deaths increases.

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The abuse of fentanyl continues to run rampant nationally and locally. On August 24, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office announced that between January 2020 and July 2021, there were 140 fentanyl-related deaths in Sacramento County. These deaths ranged from young children to the elderly.

Typically, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is given by doctors to treat severe pain, including pain caused by advanced cancer. It is usually prescribed as an injection, patch, or lozenge. However, fentanyl is often sold illegally as tablets and powders, infused on blotting paper and put in eye drops or nasal spray.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is “50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.” Due to its strength, fentanyl is extremely addictive, “acts quickly and can be fatal in a single dose,” states the American Addiction Center (AAC) on its website.

Fentanyl abuse, along with the emerging trend of opioid abuse, which includes morphine and heroin, affected more than 10 million people aged 12 and older in 2019, as reported the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. And opioid-related overdose deaths increased by more than 500% from 1999 to 2019.

If you are concerned that your loved one is suffering from fentanyl or opioid abuse, here are some common addiction red flags you can watch for and what you can do.

Behavior changes

A person can take fentanyl if they exhibit behavioral changes, according to the Recovery Village, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. This includes withdrawal from social circles, lack of motivation, and engaging with dangerous behavior.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that teens and young adults can often be depressed or hostile when using drugs. They may also change groups of friends, neglect hygiene and well-being, frequently have problems with authority, and have “deteriorating relationships” with friends and family.

Changes in psychological state

A common sign that a person is consuming or abusing fentanyl is when they experience intense happiness and arousal, followed by depression or confusion. Vertava Health, an addiction and alcohol treatment center, wrote that opioid addiction can worsen concentration and memory. They may also suffer from paranoia, mood swings, poor judgment and anxiety.

Showing signs of side effects from fentanyl

Some of the symptoms associated with fentanyl abuse, as described by the AAC, are as follows.

  • Difficulty walking and balancing

  • Muscle twitching or muscle contractions

  • Swollen hands, calves, feet and legs

  • Lack of response to stimuli

  • Hallucinations

  • Extreme drowsiness

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Trembling

  • Unconsciousness

  • To cough

  • White spots or ulcers in the mouth

Showing symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal

A person addicted to fentanyl may start to experience withdrawal symptoms within hours of taking the drug, says NIDA. These side effects include muscle and bone pain, trouble sleeping, hot flashes, goose bumps, vomiting, and uncontrolled movements of the leg.

How can I help you?

If someone you know is suffering from fentanyl or opioid addiction, you can contact the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357. Representatives will be able to direct you to nearby treatments, support groups and community organizations.

The ACA advises people to approach their loved ones with care, compassion and empathy, rather than confrontation. NIDA also recommends that parents who know their teenagers or young adults are abusing drugs create incentives to see a doctor.

“Young people will listen to professionals rather than family members, as these latter encounters can sometimes be motivated by fear, accusations and emotions,” the group wrote on its website.

If you notice that you have symptoms of substance abuse, you can also call the national helpline or contact a local treatment center.

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Hanh Truong is engagement reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She was previously a freelance journalist, covering education and culture for PBS SoCal and music for buzzbands.la.

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