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More Fentanyl Overdoses, Death Reported In California: What To Know About This Dangerous Opioid

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In the past two weeks, California has had 42 reported cases of opioid drug overdose, with 10 of them resulting in death. With the increasing number of deaths related to fentanyl overdose, doctors believe they are dealing with something out of the ordinary that needs to be addressed immediately.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesperson Cassie Rettig said pills recovered from the individuals contain fentanyl only, but they are still waiting for the final toxicology report to found out if it has any mixture of prohibited drugs.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released guidelines that require drug manufacturers to indicate a black box warning for immediate-release opioid drugs to inform users of the associated risks of the strong pain killers.

Just last year the DEA issued a nationwide alert that highlights the dangers of fentanyl and fentanyl compounds/analogues, also produced in underground labs to sell as street drugs.

"Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

Leonhart shared that fentanyl and its analogues produced illegally are about a hundred times more powerful than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that since 1999, there has been a fourfold increase in the number of death associated with prescription drug overdose. Overdose on opioid, such as fentanyl, result in as much as 40 individuals each day.

Globally, abuse of fentanyl continually increased in the past two years in countries like Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, and Denmark.

DEA believes that educating the public about the dangers of fentanyl could significantly help curb addiction and overdose.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a Schedule II prescription drug. It is a powerful synthetic opiate drug similar to but more potent than morphine. It is widely used as a surgical anesthetic or as a pain management drug for those with severe pain.

Street names for fentanyl include China white, China girl, Apache, friend, dance fever, goodfella, murder 8, jackpot, TNT, and Tango and Cash.

Effects Of Fentanyl

Fentanyl works by binding to the opiate receptors highly concentrated in the brain areas that regulate emotions and pain. Once the drug binds to the receptors, the dopamine levels in the brain shoot up, resulting in relaxation and euphoria.

As a prescription drug, fentanyl is delivered to the system via transdermal patch, injection, or in lozenge form. Fentanyl is a lethal drug even in low doses. A dose of as little as 0.25 milligrams can cause death.

Law enforcement officials are concerned about the effects when this powerful drug is laden with heroin in underground laboratories. Fentanyl-heroin mixture increases the potency and lethality of the drug, which can result in addiction, confusion, constipation, drowsiness, euphoria, tolerance, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, respiratory arrest, and even death.

Generally, pregnant women are advised not to take fentanyl as it can affect the fetus. It can also be transferred via breast milk.

Patients on fentanyl patch should also refrain from using heating pads, hot tub, sauna, and electric blankets as heat causes the patch to release more dosages of fentanyl, which can become fatal. Proper disposal of fentanyl patch should also be practiced.

Fentanyl Overdose Treatment

Treatment for fentanyl overdose is best achieved by administering an opiate receptor antagonist to block the effects of the opioids. However, treatment may significantly differ from those addicted to the drug already.

Fentanyl addiction treatment is done by withdrawing the opioid drug, which may be achieved through weaning or medical detox.

Addicted patients may receive boluses of nutritional supplements to curb the body's reaction to the withdrawal process. Since opiate abusers often cannot fully eliminate drug residues in the body, they are subjected to an innovative detoxification.

Since opioid abuse is becoming rampant in the United States, President Barack Obama proposed last February a $1.1 billion funding to ensure that all Americans who want treatment would be able to do so.

Photo: Emon Halim | Flickr

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