Fentanyl came into use in the 1980s, hailed as the next greatest opiate to use during procedures like open heart surgery—a hundred times stronger than morphine! How could that possibly be? Who could beat that for fun at a party?
Outside of the hospital setting, people who are sick over a very long term, possibly from a terminal illness like cancer, are given Duragesic patches to help them through the pain. Most of them have already taken every other kind of pain pill—not through opiate drug misuse but because their doctor has tried them on everything. When someone builds up a tolerance to all the others, a transdermal pain patch might be the only way left to provide some relief.
It is not the same fentanyl that was recently involved in a rash of fatal heroin overdoses. Throughout the first half of 2015 fentanyl was cut into heroin and people, many people, died. Newspapers and TV stations throughout affected areas of the country warned people that the stuff was deadly. At local methadone treatment clinics and 12-step meetings the word went out. Most people don’t ask what their heroin is cut with, and those who knew it was fentanyl had no idea of its strength. Plus, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the fentanyl used to cut the heroin was not regular fentanyl but a powder that was formulated in illegal laboratories.
Opiate Drug Misuse Leads to Accidental Addiction
Opiate drug misuse occurs anytime someone uses a prescription drug that was not intended for them. So if you’ve taken your Grandpa’s pain pills out of the medicine cabinet because you just can’t get rid of that backache, you’re misusing opiate drugs. Do it repeatedly, and you’re abusing them. Before you know it, you’ll be addicted, and you won’t even know how it happened.
There shouldn’t be any misconceptions about who would or wouldn’t abuse opiate drugs, given the right motivation and opportunity. After all, there are plenty of stories of people who were just trying to get more pain pills, who weren’t really into opiate drug misuse or abuse, who stole medications from friends or family members. Maybe they took money to pay the bills and used it to buy some Oxys on the street.
So do you know someone who would take dear old Granny’s pain patches and abuse them? If you’re hankering after a high, looking for a party with your pals—you probably would do it yourself. You haven’t reached the point yet where you would unplug the TV while Granny’s watching it so that you could sell it for drugs, but you’ll be there soon. Unless you die, like Matt did.
Matt’s Story of Fentanyl Drug Misuse
Matt was a 17-year-old teen sent by his probation officer into residential rehab for opiate addiction treatment. Matt’s favorite drugs were weed and alcohol, but he got on papers for drinking some cough syrup with codeine. He and his mother lived on Medicaid, because she was an alcoholic and could not hold down a job. While he was in residential treatment, she couldn’t even supply him with postage stamps so he could write to her.
After his 90 days in rehab, he found he still missed that cough syrup and he was on the lookout for any kind of opiates he could get his hands on. He knew this opiate drug misuse was like playing Russian roulette, so he went back to see his old rehab counselor, but she was off the day he went. He didn’t leave a message.
A few months later, Matt and his friends were partying, and one of them pulled out some fentanyl patches. The teens were drinking and “lippin’”—putting strips of the patches between the cheek and gums, just like dip. Matt passed out, but nobody would call an ambulance because they didn’t want to get busted. Finally, they placed all their drugs on his body and then they called for help. By then it was too late for Matt. He never regained consciousness. Three months later, he was removed from life support and pronounced dead.
Opiates are dangerous enough, but misuse of opiate drugs amplifies the risks. In Matt’s case, it may have been cutting the patches into strips. Normally patches disperse the drug slowly. But when the integrity of the patch is breached, the medication can rush into your system and it becomes deadly. The same thing happens when people try to destroy the time-release coating on pain pills, another kind of deadly opiate drug misuse.
At least there’s some kind of good ending to Matt’s story. His tale was told by one of his friends, who managed to reach adulthood in spite of himself and his continued opiate drug misuse. After dabbling with pain pills and patches until he started looking for heroin, he finally reached out and called a methadone clinic for opiate abuse treatment. He now lives a good life with a wife and a son—whom he has named Matt.