Understanding Fentanyl and its Contribution to the Opiate Crisis

Florida Psychiatrists


No doubt you’ve heard about the opiate crisis going on in the US right now. Every day we seem to be greeted with more news of deaths due to an increased rate of opiate addiction. While it’s a nationwide problem, Florida with its low substance abuse treatment funding is in particular danger to this issue. Just last month Gov. Rick Scott even declared a state of emergency in Florida over the opiate epidemic. Here is everything you need to know about the opiate crisis and what role Fentanyl is playing in it. 

Opiate Epidemic

For years now opiates have been a problem. What Florida psychiatrists want people to understand, is that many people with opiate addictions don’t set out one day to do heroin and become addicted. The addiction often begins when they are prescribed pain pills after an accident. These pills are high addictive in many cases.

A few years ago Florida set out to close down that they called “pill mills.” These pill mills were doctors or clinics that gave out prescriptions for painkillers at alarming rates. Once these were shut down though, opiate addicts weren’t magically treated, they just turned to a new drug- heroin.


Heroin is currently the main drug in the opiate crisis. Heroine is an opiate, similar to pain pills and morphine that many people start their addiction with. When their prescription runs out, or money becomes tight, addicts turn to heroin, which is easier to get and cheaper. Heroin is becoming harder to get though as law enforcement is trying to crack down on the trade. That is where fentanyl comes in. Drug dealers are starting to cut heroin (mixing it) with fentanyl, sometimes without the knowledge of the people taking the drug.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is similar to morphine but significantly stronger. It is actually a prescription medication given for chronic pain or after intensive surgery. The fentanyl that is causing problems in the opiate crisis though is illegally producted in clandestine labs.

The stress names for fentanyl or fentanyl-laced heroin are, Apache, China Girl, China White, Friend, Jackpot, TNT, Goodfella. Prescribed fentanyl often comes in the form of injections, patches or lozengens. However, the illicit version is usually in powder, tablets, or soaked into paper.

How does it work?

Fentanyl affects the brain similar to other opiate like morphine or heroin. The fentanyl binds to the opioid receptions in the brain, which are located in the area that control pain and emotions. This drives up the body’s dopamine to produce a state of relaxation and euphoria.

While the effects of fentanyl are similar to that of heroine, they are significantly stronger. This increases the risks of the user becoming unconscious, stop breathing, slipping into a coma, or even over dosing. Florida psychiatrists that work with substance abuse say people are lucky to survive one hit of the drug, it is that strong. The biggest problem with fentanyl is that most people aren’t aware they are taking it. This causes people to use their usual amount of heroine, but with the laced fentanyl it is stronger than they expect causing more overdoses that add to the opiate epidemic.

What to do?

Florida is working to combat the opiate epidemic. More first responders, law enforcement officers and hospitals are being equipped with naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that counteracts the affects of opiates. It is standard practice for an opiate overdose, but with a fentanyl overdose more of it is required than for other opiate overdoses.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an opiate addiction seek help. Fentanyl is being used at increasing rates and is leading to more overdoses and deaths everyday.



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