Fentanyl is among the deadliest drugs currently available. It is one of dozens of opioids contributing to dependencies, substance use disorders, overdoses and deaths happening across the country. Fentanyl is at the forefront of this epidemic.
In 2016, over 20,000 overdose fatalities were linked to fentanyl. This trend surpassed all prescription opioid and heroin casualties by several thousand and resulted in approximately a third of all drug-related deaths that year. Fentanyl use, overdoses, and fatalities are rising at astronomical rates each year.
A vast majority of these deaths are caused by the illicit version of the drug. The original variety of fentanyl, which still exists and is administered for pain relief to this day, came in the form of medicinal patches.
Fentanyl comes in two main varieties: a medical patch and an illicit powdery substance. It only takes a short amount of time to achieve a high, overdose or pass away from the illegal version of the drug. Because of these challenges, at-home tapering is not the best route to take. It may be too difficult to reduce dosage levels on your own. The two types of fentanyl vary in potency, making tapering even more challenging.
Tapering is a weaning technique. Physicians put their patients on a fentanyl taper schedule to help them ease off of fentanyl. There are many risks associated with quitting the drug, or any opioid, cold turkey, so tapering is a safer alternative.
A fentanyl taper seeks to avoid withdrawal symptoms by allowing the central nervous system to adapt to the drug’s absence on its own. While the goal is to stop fentanyl use, doing so without a buffer period subjects the entire body to unnecessary and painful side effects.
Opioid withdrawal has a reputation of being unpleasant. Wanting to avoid withdrawal symptoms can stall any potential progress toward recovery. Depending on how frequently the substance is used, withdrawal symptoms experience can last a week or longer. Some withdrawal symptoms include:
- Aching muscles
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Runny nose or watery eyes
- Profuse sweating
- Cramps in the abdominals
- Psychological symptoms like cravings or depression
Some stronger opioids, like fentanyl, can also lead to post-acute-withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This is a prolonged withdrawal experience where individuals may have lingering side effects for up to years after the fact.
The best way to avoid withdrawal is to have your doctor craft a unique fentanyl taper schedule. These plans are custom-made for each patient’s needs, with times, dosages and goals that are simple to follow and track progress.
Some patients can switch between 50 mcg and 25 mcg fentanyl patches. Others can transition to another opioid such as Vicodin before beginning. Some physicians may move their fentanyl patients to a replacement therapy regimen. With this practice, a patient tapers off a more stable medication such as methadone or Suboxone.
A reduction of 10 to 25 percent of fentanyl doses per week may prove to be effective. Reductions of 50 percent are not out the question for some cases. But, no matter the taper amount, it is not advised to cut open fentanyl patches without a doctor’s consent. Some patches have the ability to release all the medication at once if tampered with. This leaves the body susceptible to overdose. Fortunately, this is usually not an issue in a clinical setting, where doses are monitored precisely.
When done at a reasonable rate, fentanyl withdrawals can be prevented and managed with a taper. Trained medical personnel will do their best to make sure the treatment process is as comfortable and, ultimately, as successful as possible.
If you or someone you love lives with an addiction, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The risks of living with addiction are too high. Contact The Recovery Village and speak to a representative about how individualized treatment can work for you.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.