In the United States, thousands upon thousands of people rely on prescription painkillers to make it through their day. If you are somebody who lives with a medical condition that causes pain, you know the desperation that comes with trying to find relief. The truth of the matter is that pain relief is not always easy to accomplish—and it doesn’t come without risks.
This includes highly addictive substances such as fentanyl. Below, we will dive into what research shows us about fentanyl for pain relief: the pros and cons, the health dangers, and what to do if fentanyl use turns into an addiction.
What We Know About Fentanyl for Pain Relief
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was created to help ease cases of extreme pain. Fentanyl is actually 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Fentanyl patches are currently approved for limited pharmaceutical use. Right now, the medication is most commonly used by people who have cancer as a method of pain relief. This medication is given if morphine or other pain relief methods are ineffective.
However, the warning on these patches states that fentanyl is highly addictive and should never be prescribed to somebody who is at risk for developing a substance use disorder. But this is easier said than done.
People who are on any type of opioids for pain are always at risk of developing an addiction. However, when somebody lives with a medical condition that causes such severe pain that it reduces their quality of life, pain medication is often the first and most effective solution.
This is where each individual must weigh the potential risks versus rewards of taking something as strong as fentanyl for pain relief. While the potency of fentanyl does make it effective for pain management, it also amplifies the risk of fentanyl addiction. This is especially true for people who are already predisposed to opioid addiction.
The Risk of Fentanyl Addiction
Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of becoming addicted to fentanyl and must be considered when looking into taking this medication for chronic pain. These risks include:
- Co-occurring mental illness
- Family history of drug or alcohol addiction
- Genetic predisposition to opioid addiction
- Experiences of trauma
- Living with chronic pain
Of course, anybody can struggle with a fentanyl addiction, regardless of if they have the above risk factors or not. But oftentimes, fentanyl addiction happens as a result of untreated (or not well managed) health conditions.
These conditions can be physical or mental. On the physical side of things, when pain is not well managed, it can be easy to overuse or misuse opioids—especially if the body has already built up a tolerance to them, as this would mean that the body needs more of the drug to feel its effects. Similarly, the mind and body become dependent on pain medication. Without it, you could experience uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Furthermore, mental health struggles only add onto the risks of developing an addiction—and for people with chronic pain, experiencing mental health challenges like depression and anxiety is common. Studies show that people who live with chronic pain are likely to experience mental health difficulties as a result of living with the pain. Studies also show that people who have mental health disorders are more likely to also develop substance use disorders. When these are combined, the risks might outweigh the potential benefits when it comes to using fentanyl for pain control.
Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction
For people with chronic pain, the signs of fentanyl addiction can be hard to spot. This is because the medication is often prescribed legally. But common symptoms of opioid abuse would be:
- Using more of the drug than prescribed
- Using the prescription outside of the intended use or dosage
- Needing more of the medication to feel its effects
- Experiencing withdrawal when not using the medication
- Seeking out more of the medication through illegal means
Unfortunately, fentanyl is an easily accessible drug. This means that people can seek it out even if it hasn’t been prescribed. Additionally, not only is it easy to produce and sell, but it’s easy to mix into other drugs on the street. This is one of the reasons why fentanyl is so dangerous—to the point of being deadly.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the number one type of drug that is responsible for deaths by overdose in the United States. Many people who look to get other opioids, such as heroin, don’t know that it has been mixed with something as powerful as fentanyl. This greatly increases the chances of an overdose occurring.
Even if the person using the drugs mixed with fentanyl doesn’t overdose, the fact that the substance is more potent means that the odds of them struggling with a fentanyl addiction become much greater. This is why it’s so important to recognize the signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction. With this awareness, you might be able to get help before it is too late.
Fentanyl Addiction Treatment
In the scenarios where somebody who uses fentanyl is already struggling with an addiction, treatment is available. Fentanyl addiction treatment for people who live with chronic pain looks a little different, as treatment must take the physical side of things into account as well. Many times, addiction centers will offer services such as:
- Medical detox
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Individual counseling
- Group therapy
- Recreational therapy
- And more.
It’s also essential to have the right support in place during and after treatment to ensure long-term recovery success. This doesn’t just include fentanyl addiction recovery, either—rather, this should factor in pain management for chronic pain or pain that’s caused by medical conditions such as cancer. Having the right people to talk to can be a huge help in maintaining recovery goals in the long run. These people might be others who also live with chronic pain, chronic pain advocacy groups, mental health counselors, family members and friends, and so on.
Though it might seem like people with chronic pain have to choose to either live with their pain or put themselves at risk for developing a substance use disorder, there are other options to try when it comes to pain management. If you have been prescribed fentanyl or another opioid and you are concerned about the outcome of your mental and physical health, talk to your doctor about all of your options so that you can make the most informed decision possible.
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