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Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Addiction and Treatment Options

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

April 9, 2019

Heroin and Fentanyl are very dangerous and addictive drugs on their own. Combining these drugs can lead to very serious and even deadly consequences.

Heroin is an addiction that has plagued many parts of the world for over a century. First derived in 1847 by German scientists, heroin was invented to be a solution to the world’s growing morphine addiction epidemic. We know today how ironic this ‘solution’ ended up being, as heroin tops the list of most common addictions in the United States.

Since then, heroin has been made illegal in the US, only for many more opioid-based pain relievers to take its place. Fentanyl is one of those pain relievers, and is considered to be over 100 times more potent than its predecessor, morphine. When hospitals and law officials began discovering cases of heroin laced with fentanyl, they knew the dangers this deadly combination could hold.

What Exactly Is Heroin?

While the origins of heroin may be ironic, the dangers of the drug are very real. Heroin deaths in the United States have increased in recent years, and admission into addiction treatment facilities has almost doubled in some states. The danger in heroin lies in the drug’s high risk for addiction. Heroin is so potent that it is possible to get addicted to the drug even after the first dose.

Heroin works by entering into your bloodstream and mimicking your body’s natural neurotransmitters, which bind perfectly to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system. This reaction can occur both in the brain and spinal cord. Heroin binds to many more opioid receptors than could be possible with any naturally occurring event.

The result is an intense yet brief feeling of euphoria and pleasure, combined with the depression of the nervous system. This depression is one of the reasons opioids are utilized in pain management, as pain signals are sluggish or blocked from reaching their neurotransmitters. This changes the way we perceive pain, rather than reducing the pain itself.

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Drugs like heroin carry a high risk of dependency and addiction. As your body reacts to so many opioid receptors being activated at the same time, a new chemical ‘norm’ is set in the central nervous system. Your brain will begin to crave that level of opioid receptor activation, leading to dangerous withdrawal symptoms if that craving is not satisfied.

What’s The Difference Between Heroin And Other Opioids Like Fentanyl?

For starters, heroin is considered illegal in most cases. There are some very rare instances where heroin may be used in a hospital setting outside of the United States for medical purposes, but other than that it is a banned substance.

Heroin is considered a schedule I drug in the United States, which means it has been determined that the drug carries a high risk for addiction, there is a lack of safety even under medical supervision, and there is no medical application for the drug.

Fentanyl and other opioids such as oxycodone, codeine, and morphine, are not illegal when a valid prescription is written for the drugs. These types of drugs are considered schedule II or III controlled substances, which means it has been determined that there is a medical need for the medications, but they still carry a high risk of dependency or addiction.

What Is Fentanyl-Laced Heroin?

In the wake of the opioid epidemic here in the United States, heroin consumption has reached an all-time high. Its powerful effects and cheap price tag make it a great alternative for individuals who are dependent on prescription opioid pain pills, but can not longer access or afford their previous prescriptions.

Unlike prescriptions opioids that are made in a lab by professionals, heroin is often a homemade drug that can have vastly varying levels of purity. As popularity for using heroin to satisfy opioid cravings rose, so did tolerance among many of its users. Makeshift heroin ‘pharmacists’ were searching for a way to make the drug more potent without adding to its cost.

Fentanyl was their answer. Lacing heroin with fentanyl greatly increased the potency of the drug. Fentanyl can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin, offering individuals a vastly more potent cocktail of opioids. Even though deaths by overdose increased dramatically with the introduction of fentanyl, many individuals who tried the new combination became hooked immediately.

Overdose Deaths Linked To Fentanyl-Laced Heroin

Deaths from overdose have skyrocketed with the introduction of fentanyl-laced heroin to the market. Creating an entirely new level of addiction, individuals hooked on the drug are merciless to say no to its potent effects. Almost every state in the country has reports of multiple deaths linked to fentanyl-laced heroin, some reporting hundreds of them in a year.

For anyone who tries fentanyl-laced heroin, often the addiction becomes so severe that they will not be able to satisfy their craving without fentanyl. The drug is so potent that there have been many reported cases of accidental overdoses due to second-hand contact with the drug. It is not uncommon for police to be accompanied by emergency response teams when performing drug raids in case of accidental contact with the drug.

Heroin and Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Options

While treatment options for heroin addiction have been around for decades, there have been newer programs added to specifically treat different prescription opioid addictions such as fentanyl. Fentanyl is so potent that withdrawal symptoms from the drug can be exceptionally dangerous and feel unbearable.

Medical detox is recommended for severe addictions to heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids, which can provide a clinically supervised environment sometimes combined with medication therapies to make the withdrawal period more bearable. Medical detox can be a standalone facility or can be a part of a residential or hospital addiction treatment program.

Inpatient residential treatment is highly recommended for individuals addicted to fentanyl-laced heroin. As the drug itself is remarkably strong, so is its addiction. With a residential inpatient program, individuals are able to be removed from the triggers and temptations of their previous life and are put into a supportive and positive environment to focus on their recovery.

Get Help Today

Are you concerned for a loved one who is addicted to heroin, fentanyl, or any other prescription opioids? Do you struggle with opioid addiction yourself? We can help. Our addiction treatment specialists are standing by around the clock to answer any questions you have regarding treatment options and your addiction.

Our specialists have access to addiction treatment centers across the country, and can help you make the best decision for your recovery. There is hope, give us a call today for confidential help and get started on your journey to recovery. - What Is Heroin?

Journal of Developing Drugs - Fentanyl - A Potent Opioid Analgesic - Drug Classifications

Project Know - What You Need to Know About Fentanyl-Laced Heroin

Washington Post - Fentanyl Overdoses

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