Throughout Colorado, including locations like Denver, Colorado Springs, Palmer Lake, and Boulder as well as statewide, there is a public health crisis not just surrounding the use of opioids in general, but more specifically fentanyl. News outlets like The Denver Post have been reporting on the seriousness of the fentanyl problem gripping the state.
For example, police have been finding pills that contain both heroin and fentanyl. According to reports from spring 2017, law enforcement officers have been finding not only drugs containing fentanyl, but there has also been a spike in resulting deaths.
In 2016 Colorado officers reported an increase in deaths specifically related to fentanyl, and they started to be required to undergo special training as a result. In fact, in Colorado and areas like Denver Counter, it is being called the “serial killer” of drugs.
So what is fentanyl and why is impacting Colorado and other states in the nation so heavily? Why are law enforcement officers in major areas of Colorado like Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs so burdened by the sale and overdoses related to fentanyl?
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an opioid, and Colorado doesn’t just have problems with this particular opioid but many others. The specific problem of fentanyl is that it’s incredibly potent. This Schedule II prescription drug is used for the treatment of severe pain in medical settings, often following surgery or for pain in patients with cancer, and it’s considered 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
In some instances, it may be used to treat chronic pain in opioid-resistant patients.
Fentanyl is known in brand name forms as Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze, and other. On the streets when someone is buying or selling fentanyl it may be known by many names including Apache, China Girl, China White and others. Illicit forms of fentanyl are typically combined with heroin, making them so powerful that people may overdose almost immediately and with a small dose.
When fentanyl is taken as prescribed by a physician, it’s usually given as an injection, or as a patch that goes on the skin. It may also be given in lozenge form. Much of the fentanyl that’s leading to overdoses in places like Denver and throughout Colorado, however, is the result of fentanyl produced illegally. When fentanyl is produced in illegal labs, it’s often made in powder form, or put on blotter paper.
Is Fentanyl Addictive?
Fentanyl, like other opioids, is addictive. It binds to certain receptors in the brain and central nervous system, and it impacts the areas of the body and brain that regulate and control emotions and pain. When fentanyl binds to opioid receptors, it floods the brain with dopamine, and that is what’s responsible for the high people feel with this drug and other opioids.
Dopamine makes you feel good, and when you take an opioid like fentanyl, your brain’s reward centers also respond.
This is why people become addicted. Their brain starts to seek out the substance that led to the feelings of euphoria, and a cycle of addiction is born.
Fentanyl is addictive, and it’s also a drug that can create a physical dependence. Physical dependence is different from a psychological addiction, and this occurs when your body becomes so used to the presence of the fentanyl that it can’t function normally without it. When this happens and someone stops taking it suddenly they can experience withdrawal symptoms.
Since fentanyl is so potent addiction can not only occur, but it can happen very quickly. After taking fentanyl only a few times a person can become addicted to the drug, and because of this and also the physical dependence that can occur, the likelihood of an overdose becomes very high.
With a fentanyl overdose, the respiratory system is depressed to the point that breathing stops. If someone takes fentanyl without knowing it, that risk is especially high.
Fentanyl Patch Addiction
People frequently wonder not only if fentanyl is addictive, but also more specifically if fentanyl patches are addictive. Fentanyl patches are given in medical settings as a way to deliver a controlled amount of the painkiller to a patient. These transdermal patches are put directly on the skin, and since the medicine is delivered in a time-released way, people wonder whether or not fentanyl patch addiction is possible.
The answer is yes. A fentanyl patch can create a high, and it can lead to abuse and addiction.
Some of the methods of abusing fentanyl patches include applying multiple patches directly to the skin and changing out the medicated patches more often than you’re supposed to. People may also chew the patches or swallow them to get the medicine more quickly and strongly, they may insert them rectally, they may inject the gel from the patches, or they may create a tea from the patch.
It’s incredibly dangerous to abuse fentanyl patches in this way because these forms of the drug are meant to give a large amount of fentanyl over an extended period of time, so when that dose is given all at once, the risk of overdose is very high.
Throughout Colorado fentanyl is an increasingly severe problem. There are so many different ways of abusing fentanyl, and many people are even taking it inadvertently without knowing it and ultimately dying as a result. It’s not just the bigger cities of Colorado like Denver and Colorado Springs where the effects of fentanyl are being felt, however. It’s also rural areas, and no part of Colorado or even the country is immune from the effects of the opioid epidemic that’s occurring.
According to NPR and the Colorado Health Institute, the death rate from overdoses in certain counties has doubled or gone up even more, and rural areas and small cities are seeing problems that are on the same level as the big cities.
To sum up, fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that’s intended to be prescribed for severe pain. Unfortunately, fentanyl like other opioids is also highly addictive, and many deaths are occurring throughout Colorado because of fentanyl and other drugs like it.