Several studies have shown that the use of prescription opioids among teenagers has been in decline in recent years. But unfortunately, overdose deaths among teenagers are on the rise, due in part to the growing use of illegal synthetic opioid pain relievers such as fentanyl.
Fentanyl is considered to be up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and it only takes a small amount for users to experience feelings of intense pleasure and euphoria. Drug dealers often add fentanyl to heroin and other substances to create a less-expensive drug that still produces a powerful high. As a result, many people end up taking fentanyl without actually knowing it – and because the drug is so strong, the chances of experiencing an overdose are greatly increased.
Teens who abuse fentanyl and other opioids are also at increased risk of engaging in other types of dangerous behavior. They are five times more likely than other teens to attempt suicide, drive drunk, get into fights, carry guns or other weapons, or engage in risky sexual activity, one study reported.
Fentanyl has been in use for more than 50 years, although only recently has it become one of the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, It achieved a level of notoriety when it was identified as the drug that contributed to the recent deaths of the popular musicians Tom Petty and Prince.
Fentanyl is involved in 59 percent of opioid-related deaths, according to a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is possible to overdose on fentanyl alone, or when it is mixed with heroin or other opioids. Fentanyl-laced heroin is up to 50 times more potent than regular heroin, making it extremely dangerous and a major cause of opioid-related deaths.
In its legal versions, often prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain after surgery, it is administered as patches, shots or lozenges. Illegal fentanyl, known by its street names Dance Fever, China Girl, Apache, Tango & Cash, King Ivory and others, can be found in eye droppers or nasal sprays, as a powder, on blotter paper, or as pills that are made to look like other prescription opioids.
Fentanyl is extremely addictive in teens, especially in the illegally produced forms that don’t have prescribed dosage amounts. This often leads teens to take more than they may have intended, which can accelerate the addiction. Even if teens use legal fentanyl prescribed by a doctor, it is still possible to become addicted after just a few days.
Teens who use fentanyl often show signs of typical drug-addicted behavior – cravings for the drug, compulsive use and impaired judgement. They may also experience a wide range of physical symptoms such as blurred vision, slurred or slow speech, drowsiness, confusion, nausea and slowed breathing.
An addiction to fentanyl also causes many young users to ignore their relationships and responsibilities: withdrawal from family or social events, absences or poor performance at school, abandoning hobbies or activities that they once found enjoyable, and the inability to perform even the most routine chores and activities.
Other signs of a teen fentanyl addiction include:
Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl abuse can be severe. The addictive qualities of the drug are very powerful and depending on how much and how often someone uses fentanyl, it may require a fully supervised medical detox program to overcome the addiction.
During a teen’s drug rehab, as a person begins to withdraw from fentanyl, they experience physical and mental symptoms – agitation, anxiety, aches and pains, sweating, and generally feeling restless and tired. As withdrawal progresses, the symptoms may become more severe – vomiting, nausea, cramping, spasms, and diarrhea.
For someone who has used fentanyl for a long time and developed a strong dependence, the struggle to get through withdrawal can be even more difficult and dangerous. When withdrawal is this intense, medications and clinical assistance are required. Buprenorphine, naltrexone, methadone, and other drugs have been successful in decreasing cravings for fentanyl and increasing the chances of a successful recovery.