Prince’s Death Puts Opioid Fentanyl Overdose under Spotlight

According to a Minnesota medical examiner report, musician Prince passed away after a self-administered dose of fentanyl. (Forbes, 2016)

It is not clear whether Prince habitually used fentanyl or other prescription opioids or how long he used such medication; there is not enough information to classify this as an addiction. Nevertheless, this tragic and untimely loss is increasing awareness of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States – and more specifically, fentanyl abuse. During this devastating time, Gateway hopes to educate individuals on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse and help a loved one who may be struggling.

Addressing the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Medicine pill capsules with medicine bottleStudies show that more than 28,000 people died from opioids, which includes heroin and painkillers, in 2014, and 4.3 million people were taking pain medication for non-medical purposes that year. (NY Times, 2016)

In March of 2015, the DEA issued a nationwide alert regarding fentanyl. “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,” wrote DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

Fortunately, there is hope. Treatment is available for those who wish to seek help for prescription drug abuse.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful prescription opioid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that fentanyl is nearly one hundred times as strong as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin.

Fentanyl is typically prescribed to treat severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. Like heroin, morphine, and other opioids, fentanyl binds to the body’s opiate receptors – driving up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas and producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.

When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenge form. However, the type of fentanyl associated with most overdoses is produced in underground laboratories and mixed with heroin or other substances in a powder form.

Mixing fentanyl with street drugs such as heroin or cocaine increases potency and potential dangers. (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016)

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse?
If your loved one is prescribed an opioid painkiller, keep a watchful eye and ensure he or she takes the medication as directed. Some warning signs of prescription drug abuse to watch for include:

  • Appearing drowsy or intoxicated
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Not performing well at work or school (or just not attending at all)
  • Running out of medication too early
  • Changing doctors often

Effects of Fentanyl Abuse
There are serious mental and physical effects of prolonged fentanyl abuse in addition to the signs and symptoms of abuse listed above. Physical side effects include severe gastrointestinal problems, weakened immune system, difficulty breathing and seizures. Mental effects may include paranoia, lack of motivation, personality changes and social withdrawal. When combined with street drugs, the depression of the central nervous system can lead to respiratory distress, coma and even death. (DrugAbuse.com)

To learn more about prescription drug abuse and treatment visit RecoverGateway.org/RxDrugs.

 

About Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers
Every year Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment helps thousands of adults and teens get their life back on track and gives renewed hope to those who care about them. With 50 years of treatment experience, our specialists take the time to understand of the specific needs of each individual. We then develop a customized treatment plan with recommendations for the most appropriate care based on an individual's substance abuse and mental health history. As the largest provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment in Illinois, Gateway has 11 treatment centers throughout the state. Gateway outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment programs are not one-size fits all, but unique treatment plans that give an individual the highest chance for a successful outcome. With insurance acceptance and a track record of success, Gateway Treatment Centers help thousands of individual’s successfully complete treatment each year, and find the hope they need to live again.

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