Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction and Overdose
MEDICAL ANIMATION TRANSCRIPT: Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug. The pharmaceutical form is prescribed to treat severe pain, usually from cancer or after surgery. There’s also an illicit form that’s made and sold illegally on the drug market. People take it because it produces a strong “high” and intense feelings of well-being. It’s potency, or strength, is up to fifty times that of heroin, an illegal opioid, and one hundred times that of morphine, another opioid used to treat severe pain. As with any opioid, fentanyl addiction is a brain disease where you have an overwhelming craving for the drug. You can’t stop taking the drug despite the harm it may cause you. If you’re addicted and stop taking the drug, you can feel sick. This sickness is called withdrawal. An important treatment for addiction to opioids, such as fentanyl, is called medication-assisted treatment, or “MAT.” MAT is a “whole patient” approach that combines medication to help you stop using opioids, with counseling and behavioral therapy. Three common medications used to treat opioid addictions, including fentanyl, are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. In the brain, each drug attaches to the same receptors on cells as fentanyl does. Methadone activates the receptors, but it's a slower acting drug than fentanyl because it takes longer to reach the brain when used as prescribed. This reduces the “high” feeling and prevents withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine is a weaker drug than fentanyl because it doesn’t activate the receptors as strongly. This makes it much less likely to cause an overdose than a drug that fully activates the receptors. It also blocks fentanyl from attaching to the receptors. As a result, it reduces uncomfortable cravings for fentanyl without making you feel high. Naltrexone blocks the opioid receptors by attaching to them so fentanyl can’t. This prevents fentanyl from getting you “high”. It does reduce cravings, but does not stop withdrawal symptoms. Drug treatment is more effective when combined with behavioral therapy. Therapy can help you handle stress and life events that can trigger cravings for fentanyl. A fentanyl overdose is a condition where taking too much of the drug may cause life-threatening symptoms. An overdose of fentanyl can slow or stop your breathing. As a result, the lack of oxygen can lead to coma, permanent brain damage, and even death. Call nine-one-one immediately if you think a fentanyl overdose has happened. Start CPR if the person isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse. The most effective and life-saving treatment for an overdose is naloxone. It’s an injectable drug or nasal spray that quickly blocks the effects of fentanyl and can stop an opioid-related overdose. For more information about treating fentanyl addiction and overdose, talk to your healthcare practitioner.