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Heroin Vs. Fentanyl: What’s the Difference?

  • Heroin Vs. Fentanyl: What’s the Difference?

    Heroin Vs. Fentanyl: What’s the Difference?

    Heroin Vs. Fentanyl: What's the Difference? image

    Heroin and Fentanyl have been in the news quite a bit recently, especially given the recent rise in heroin-related overdose deaths tied to the integration of Fentanyl into the heroin markets across the country. Often those who suffer these unfortunate overdoses aren’t aware that they are taking this lethal concoction; where heroin alone is deadly, when Fentanyl is married into the mix, the result is proving to be catastrophic.

    Part of the problem is that we understand so little about Fentanyl and how it interacts with heroin. That’s why it’s the focus of today’s “What’s the Difference?”

     

    Fentanyl and Heroin: History Repeating Itself

    Here’s your trivia for today: heroin started its career of death-dealing as an over-the-counter pain medication. Invented in Germany in 1857, heroin was deemed a medical breakthrough of the time. The medical industry of the time ironically touted it as a safe alternative to another highly addictive opioid pain killer: Morphine.

    Over the next few decades, doctors and pharmacists quickly learned that heroin posed the same dangers as Morphine on a much greater scale. After Heroin Vs. Fentanyl: What's the Difference? imageyears of petitioning and legal disputes, they were eventually able to get heroin outlawed and classed as a Schedule I drug, though heroin’s deadly reign still continues, 159 years later.

    Fentanyl, yet another powerful opioid painkiller, is following a similar path. 50 to 100 times stronger than Morphine, Fentanyl is so powerful that it’s intended use was only for treatment of people experiencing extreme pain caused by late-stage cancer or during surgery. Another bit of trivia? Fentanyl is often used in conjunction with the controversial drug Midazolam during executions via lethal injection. While the medical applications of Fentanyl are limited and under severe restrictions, that hasn’t stopped the incredibly dangerous substance from finding a place on the illegal street market.

    There’s nothing new about pain medications in the street market. “Popping pills” is especially popular among young teens who naively believe their attempts to get high are safe because these drugs are labelled as medication. Unfortunately taking medication which is not prescribed to you can have serious, even lethal effects, including brain damage, organ failure, and death. There’s nothing cool, fun, or glamorous about overdoses, and unfortunately Fentanyl seems to be making the rate of heroin overdoses skyrocket.

    What’s the Difference Between Heroin and Fentanyl?

    While both of these drugs are opioids, meaning their effects on the mind and body are quite similar: both produce a relaxed, nearly euphoric feeling, and they pose the same risks of death. When a drug like Fentanyl or Heroin is used, the respiratory system, central nervous system, and cardiovascular system are suppressed, which can lead to reduced consciousness or unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, heart problems, and other dangerous medical conditions.  

    Heroin Vs. Fentanyl: What's the Difference? image

    So what’s the difference? Heroin, for one, is a derivative of Morphine, which naturally occurs within opium poppy plants, while Fentanyl is man-made and (as noted before) up to 100 times more powerful than Morphine. As a synthetic opiate with at least some medical use, Fentanyl remains a Schedule II drug in comparison to heroin’s place as a Schedule I drug. Additionally, where heroin is often injected, snorted, or smoked, Fentanyl, when used as an illicit substance, is typically taken in pill form.

    The most common marriage of these two substances comes during a process called “cutting,” which is when illegal drug manufacturers dilute one substance with another. In the case of heroin and Fentanyl, cutting heroin with Fentanyl makes the effects much stronger and the substance more potent. Typically, however, people who use this doctored heroin supply are unaware that they are also taking another powerful substance, leading them to unintentionally overdose. Fentanyl is often used for management of pain in people who have developed a tolerance for other opiate medications, meaning their pain has surpassed the threshold for effectiveness of other drugs. In people who do not have such a tolerance, Fentanyl use and abuse is life-threatening.

    Legal and Medical Consequences of Fentanyl Abuse

    Heroin Vs. Fentanyl: What's the Difference? image

    With the resurgence of heroin overdose deaths and the tie to Fentanyl, many people are pushing for greater control over the pain medication and opioid drugs in general. Though this may seem like the obvious solution to a rapidly growing problem, there is one population that stands to lose in such a case: people with pain management problems who depend on these medications to experience a better quality of life. This includes people with chronic pain disorders, cancer patients, and people recovering from life-saving, invasive surgeries.

    As it becomes increasingly difficult to gain access to Fentanyl even for legitimate medical applications, doctors and patients are scrambling for some way to find relief. Lobbyists and organizations representing such patients are pushing for fear not to outshadow their needs.

    What do you think about the relationship between Heroin and Fentanyl? Should Fentanyl be banned? Tell us what you think in the comments!

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    Comments (15)

    • I truly believe that my son whom died of brain cancer at 31 yrs old, could’ve never with stood the ain without thhe ,Fentanyl patch. There were times it didn’t even make a dent in the severe pain. Without Fentanyl his quality of life would have been 0. When taken.for terminal purposes as opposed to recreational purposes it is a wonderful drug.

      Reply
      • Hello, Sherry!
        We’re so sorry to hear about your son’s passing. These medications definitely have wonderful applications when used properly- hopefully we can find a way to ensure those who are in need of Fentanyl-based pain relief are still taken care of while combating the rise in Fentanyl-related deaths.

        Reply
    • Dear Alexandra, I am a chronic pain patient who has been on Fentanyl patches for 17 yrs
      Due to an accident that crushed my legs and feet for 18 hours resulting in damaged and dead nerves and complete muscle loss. I have been on nerve blocks and every pain pill out there. I have so many pain receptors in my brain which absorb the pain medication that I do NOT experience any type of “high”! The problem starts with doctors prescribing pain medication to people who have moderate to minimal pain whose brains do not have as many pain receptors resulting in addiction! Now, I and thousands of people who experience EXCRUCIATING PAIN cannot find a Dr. who will prescribe their meds out of fear of losing their license, so patients either drive 5 or more hours to find a doctor OR
      KILL THEMSELVES because they are out of their minds with unsustainable pain! This is
      Unacceptable, so what can be done to protect them and educate the doctors and protect them?

      Reply
    • I think pain meds (in particular Fentanyl) should be accessible to people of pain. As the article says, and for which I’m aware, almost all pain medication is becoming more and more difficult to acquire. This should not be. Sure, not everyone should have access to these drugs, but those with the need and under a doctor’s supervision, they should be available. As for Heroine and other illicit drugs, more research needs to be done to see if (as the government states), there are no acceptable uses for these drugs.

      Reply
      • Patty
      • September 26, 2016 at 10:45 am

      I have been on the fentanyl patch for over seven years in addition to hydrocodone and gabapentin. I suffer from chronic low back pain. After being unable to get out of bed or turn over and experiencing excruciating pain when initially standing up my primary physician sent me to a physiatrist. I already had been being seen at a pain management clinic. The new doctor basically said these drugs were like using heroin. Since my pain is not fully controlled with the meds although at times lessened she suggested I get off all opioids as I would have pain either way. My use and dependence on these medications are in my mind necessary for quality of life. Prior to opioids I was using over the counter analgesics which left me with gerd. Your thoughts?

      Reply
      • Hello, Patty!
        I’m sorry you find yourself in such a situation, as I know patients who rely on powerful opioids are effected by the substance abuse epidemic. While it is true that Fentanyl is a deadly drug and can easily be abused, it is necessary that we find effective alternatives for those who need pain management. Fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger than heroin and has contributed largely to the increase in lethal overdoses across the country. That being said, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about available alternatives that will not cause greater suffering on your part. I am not a medical professional, so I cannot offer you and advising regarding what will help you; I can only encourage you to be safe and know the dangers.

        Reply
      • Greg
      • October 17, 2016 at 7:01 pm

      I have been on Fentanyl for almost 10 years now. I am a disabled veteran, who has had 20+ surgeries & procedures (with 4 back, 8 total hips, 3 compound leg/arm fractures….etc…), plus some other diagnosed issues that cause acute chronic pain (even before this stuff, it was not my first rodeo with acute pain…like kidney stones, many abscessed teeth…etc…), and while I’m grateful for the VA…. I think they have lost their minds over the Opiate/Opioid issue. I just received a letter in the mail recently from the VA saying that except for cancer patients, ALL other VA patients would no longer be able to be prescribed opiates anymore. Instead….only NSAID’s! Have they lost their mind? I guarantee if they spent a day n my life without them….their mind would change! What NSAID’s could take the place of my 50mcg Fentanyl patch, 60-90 mill. Hydro (daily), and 3 to 5 hundred mill. Methocarbamol (daily)? If you know…..please tell me! The withdrawals are going to be bad enough, BUT…. they are temporary….my pain is not, and much of it is progressive situations (that I can’t get in-depth about) that really scare the heck out of me. I understand the “abuse” situations, but that is the point….it’s abuse! Those of us who need these for severe chronic & progressive pain, follow all the rules (testing…etc), and serve our country, and they want to make our lives more miserable? I need to know which opiate to come off of Fentanyl to (and the equivalent of 25mcg’s of Fentanyl for that opiate….Oxy?…or Morph?) until I have to then start coming off even it to NSAID’s….or ANYTHING ELSE that will work for acute chronic pain. PLEASE HELP !!!

      Reply
      • Hello, Greg,
        Your situation is definitely difficult and you are not alone. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the crack down of opioid prescriptions including those made for patients with a medical need. I do encourage you to do what you can to protect your medical rights and if possible contest the decision made by the VA. Also, have this discussion with your doctor as we are not a medical advisory service. They would be more able to help you find an effective alternative treatment in place of the highly addictive Fentanyl. Best of luck to you.

        Reply
          • jenn
          • November 19, 2017 at 5:36 pm

          Have you ever tried methadone cause tht helps with getting off of opiates without. Any withdrawal and it helps with pain

          Reply
          • Hi Jenn!

            Methadone is used in medically assisted detox to help with withdrawal symptoms, but we have to be careful due to its potentially addictive traits. Having the proper supervision and moderation when using methadone as a part of a detox regimen.

            Reply
      • Melanie
      • January 18, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Yes I think fentanyl should be banned. My mother takes it and I have seen how it has negatively effected her. She is nodding off while driving and has accident after accident. She looks like she can barely keep her eyes open and her pupils are like a pin needle. She loses track of time and thinks everything is everyone elses fault. This drug is too strong and is being abused and needs to be banned!

      Reply
      • Kat
      • January 7, 2018 at 4:21 pm

      My best friend just overdosed this morning from these 2 things. Patches and heroine! So sad!

      Reply
      • Rhonda
      • January 23, 2018 at 3:50 pm

      It’s just sad i need help getting my pain concerns meet & I’m not getting anywhere since all the mew law’s have came in affect yes I to believe the fentanyl should be regulated better but for the love of God some of us really do need help & the abusers are making hard for us 😢😠

      Reply

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