How the Prescription Painkiller Fentanyl Became a Favored Street Drug
Nadia Whitehead - Delaware Public Media
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August 31, 2015
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has been used for decades as a painkiller in the operating room. (Joe Amon/The Denver Post)
If you've ever had surgery, you may have been given an analgesic named fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a favored painkiller because it acts fast. But it's also 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The powerful drug has made its way to the streets and increasingly is being used to cut heroin - resulting in a deadly combination.
Fentanyl abuse first became a problem some 25 to 30 years ago, way before it started being mixed with heroin, says Dr. Neil Capretto, an addiction physician at the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Penn.
Fentanyl, Capretto explains, was originally invented to relieve pain and is often injected in patients prior to surgical procedures. The synthetic opioid can also be prescribed in a lozenge or patch to treat the severe pain associated with metastatic, colon and pancreatic cancer.
"Patterns of abuse actually began with hospital workers, anesthesiologists and nurses," Capretto says. "There were a rash of [health specialists] dying from overdose. You'd hear of them getting it in the operating rooms by drawing out fentanyl from vials and putting saline in its place."
Later, when take-home fentanyl patches were invented, patients began abusing the painkiller, too.
Read the rest at Delaware Public Media
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