Wednesday, August 31 | Thought Leadership, Post-Acute Care, Value-based Care, Human Services

Combatting the Rise of Fentanyl Abuse: Featuring the Powell Recovery Center

By Neal Tilghman, Senior Director & GM, Integrated Care

National Overdose Awareness Day is August 31. Even if you, yourself do not have a connection with drugs you can still take part in creating awareness of the drug epidemic plaguing our nation. One drug in particular has crept its way up to being one of the top drugs responsible for overdose deaths.

Fentanyl—you’ve probably heard of it before, and you probably know it’s a type of prescription drug. But what is fentanyl? What’s it made of? And why is so addictive?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which means it is not grown or produced naturally. The powerful substance is created in a lab to act like other opioids such as morphine and codeine, to produce pain-relieving effects.

The Schedule II prescription drug is typically prescribed to treat patients with chronic pain or alleviate severe discomfort following surgery and should only be used under a licensed medical professional. However, like anything else, if misused or abused, it’s easy to see how fentanyl is becoming an aid in thousands of opioid deaths per year.

So, what’s the draw?

Imagine someone injects or consumes an opioid into their body. It travels throughout the bloodstream until it reaches the brain. From there, it attaches to specific proteins known as opioid receptors. These receptors are responsible for the feelings of pleasure and pain so when the opioid attaches, it can relieve the pain and cause a sense of euphoria. This leads the person taking the drug to feel happy, calm, or any other feel-good emotion.

Maybe the individual is struggling financially or recently lost a loved one. If someone is struggling with depression or any mental illness, the ability to take something to make you feel happy can be a very tempting offer. The problem with using fentanyl and other opioids for recreation is that you need more and more of the drug to produce the same happy feeling you initially got.

The reason fentanyl has become so popular is because of its low cost, it is easy for drug dealers to mix it with other drugs, most commonly heroin, increasing the potency. Many overdose deaths are caused by other drugs containing traces of fentanyl, sometimes unbeknown to the one taking it. Drug trafficking organizations usually distribute fentanyl by the kilogram which to put into perspective, one kilogram of fentanyl can kill 500,000 people.

Addressing opioid use in our communities

One Netsmart-partnered organization greatly affected by fentanyl abuse is the Powell Recovery Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Started in 1994, Powell’s mission is to make recovery available to everyone with treatments on demand and to provide access to help around the clock. Powell Recovery Center provides a variety of services to fit an individual’s needs including on-demand care, substance abuse, mental health, psychiatric rehabilitation programs, outpatient services, suboxone maintenance, ancillary and dual diagnosis services to provide a comprehensive approach to treatment.

Many of the Center’s clients are teens and young adults of which 80-90% suffer from a fentanyl dependency. With more than 1,200 deaths contributed to opioid overdose in the Baltimore area per year, Powell is committed to battling the fentanyl epidemic in their community.

The physicians, clinicians and peer support staff use a patient-centered approach to treatment, ensuring recovery is within reach for each individual that walks though their doors. Powell’s treatment on-demand services have improved access for their community so that more than 95% of clients are scheduled for admission within 24 hours of their needs being evaluated and connecting them to the appropriate resources and services to ensure a healthy recovery.

Going the extra mile to save lives

Powell Recovery Center goes above and beyond the services in their facilities and created an Outreach team for the city, staffed with individuals trained to administer Narcan (a brand of Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose). This team patrols the surrounding neighborhoods to help people on the streets who are suffering from an opioid overdose, saving on average five to seven lives per month. The individuals the Outreach team has saved are people who are not in treatment, and who are not Powell clients.

This is just one real-life example of the organizations trying to combat the opioid and fentanyl epidemic in our country. It’s important to realize that fentanyl is just one drug, out of hundreds that people misuse.

Help is out there and being educated on different opioids is a step towards helping others and making a difference. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a variety of recovery resources and support. If you or someone you know is experiencing substance-use disorder or addiction, contact the National Helpline.

 

 

Meet the Author

Neal Tilghman Blog Photo
Neal Tilghman · Senior Director & GM, Integrated Care

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