Anyone who has ever had serious pain -- the kind that disables you, causes you to curl knees to chest -- knows how the body and mind can crave pain relief.
For me, it came with kidney stones some years back. After three hours untreated in an emergency room, I finally received a doctor-approved shot of morphine, then a second, then relief. Deliverance. I was willing again to go on living -- having not been so sure a few minutes before.
Morphine, it turns out, is child’s play when it comes to pain relief. Fentanyl is serious stuff -- 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl is prescribed to only the most serious patients, such as those dealing with advanced cancer. To do its work, it numbs the mind, takes the consciousness of the sufferer to some detached place. It must be an angel of sorts for those caught in the strong grip of chronic, life-zapping pain.
Fentanyl, as might be expected, has a dark side. It is highly addictive, even when prescribed. Then there is the non-prescription version, which sometimes is packaged with heroin. Its street names are Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“This non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold in the following forms: as a powder; spiked on blotter paper; mixed with or substituted for heroin; or as tablets that mimic other, less potent opioids. People can swallow, snort, or inject fentanyl, or they can put blotter paper in their mouths so that fentanyl is absorbed through the mucous membrane.”
Fentanyl is part of the opioid crisis. The illegally manufactured version is “flooding some communities across the United States, with overdoses and deaths steadily climbing in its wake.” reports The Pew Charitable Trusts. “In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported more than 700 deaths from 2013 to 2014 related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF). Over the same period, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 79 percent increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids, driven primarily by IMF-related overdoses.”
How does fentanyl work? NIDA says:
“Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body's opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. Fentanyl's effects resemble those of heroin and include euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death.”
I share this as a brief introduction. We hear much about the opioid crisis, but it’s important to look at the pieces of the problem. Fentanyl is one piece in this ugly puzzle.
The human brain amazes with both its strength and weakness. It is able to withstand inhuman treatment and abuse, but it also crumbles in the midst of the stresses of contemporary life, a life for which we are not completely equipped. Then the brains of gifted scientists develop drugs to help us cope. It is as if these brains are connected and held together in one eternal mind, what we know as God.
But there is another mind at work, one fouling God’s creation, pulling it apart, distracting it from real living. The makers and distributers of destructive drugs (often good drugs used inappropriately) are part of this evil mind. As the garden serpent said to Eve, “You will not die.” But that is, in fact, what happens when we take the bite not intended by God for us to take.
It often is a slow death. Those of us raised in the 1960s and ’70s see it in the aging rock stars who look much older than their age, not to mention the countless of their ranks who never made it to middle age. And the ones who have made it to older age generally recount their long, difficult process of weaning themselves from their would-be killers.
Demon drugs take a heavy toll. Note the effects of fentanyl listed above. Only three seem a bit positive -- euphoria, sedation, and tolerance. But even with this trio, a contrived euphoria, forced sedation, and unthinking tolerance appear in no way to help a person achieve fullness of life. Then throw in drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, addiction, respiratory depression, arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death. It’s not a good deal by any mental or emotional calculus.
With fentanyl we have yet another strange word to add to our vocabulary if we are to live in this crazy yet God-blessed world. Here’s an old word to remember as we cope -- deliverance. This world does not have the last word.