Actiq is a brand name, lozenge formulation of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is commonly prescribed to patients suffering from chronic, breakthrough cancer pain, who are regularly taking or are tolerant to other narcotic pain medications.
Actiq functions by altering how the central nervous system responds to pain signals. It can be habit-forming and must be taken exactly as directed by your doctor. Taking a larger dose, or taking it more frequently or for a longer period of time than prescribed, can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Understanding Actiq Abuse
Actiq is a lozenge that, when placed on the tongue, slowly dissolves in the mouth. It is important to take Actiq exactly as directed by your doctor. Taking Actiq in larger doses or more frequently than prescribed greatly increases the potential for addiction. Even patients who take Actiq EXACTLY as prescribed run the risk of becoming dependent.
Like heroin, morphine, and other opioids, Actiq attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals. Because opioid receptors are located in the brain’s reward center, they can also cause the brain to release more dopamine, commonly known as the “feel-good” chemical, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation similar to heroin.
Signs and Symptoms of Actiq Abuse
Some signs and symptoms of Actiq addiction may include:
- Needing to refill a prescription before it is due
- Changes in mood
- Changes in appearance or hygiene
- Mental clouding
- Isolation from family and friends
- Secretive behavior
- Changes in eating habits
- Nervousness and restlessness
- Lack of interest in activities the user previously enjoyed
Side Effects of Actiq
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, possible side effects of taking Actiq may include:
- stomach pain, gas, or heartburn
- weight loss
- difficulty urinating
- changes in vision
- unusual thinking
- unusual dreams
- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- dry mouth
- sudden reddening of the face, neck, or upper chest
- uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
- back pain
- chest pain
- pain, sores, or irritation in the mouth in the area where you placed the medication
- swelling of the hands, arms, feet, ankles, or lower legs
Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of the following, call your doctor immediately:
- changes in heartbeat
- agitation, hallucinations (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist)
- fever, sweating
- fast heartbeat
- severe muscle stiffness or twitching
- loss of coordination
- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- loss of appetite
- weakness or dizziness
- inability to get or keep an erection
- irregular menstruation
- decreased sexual desire
- hives, rash or itching
If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop using Actiq and seek emergency medical treatment:
- slow, shallow breathing
- decreased urge to breathe
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- extreme drowsiness
Dangers of Actiq Abuse
Sustained use of Actiq will create a tolerance for the drug, forcing addicts to increase their dosage to experience the same effects. Taking large amounts of Actiq will increase the number and severity of side effects, and cause the user to run a much greater risk of fatality.
Opioid receptors are found in the same areas of the brain that control breathing. The fact sheet on Actiq from the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that “high doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which can lead to death. The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose.”
Who Abuses Actiq?
A person of any age, gender, financial status, or ethnicity can become addicted to Actiq. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, “regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can produce dependence, and when misused or abused, opioid pain relievers can lead to fatal overdose. The current epidemic of prescription opioid abuse has led to increased use of heroin, which presents similar dangers.”
People who seek out illegally manufactured Actiq (fentanyl) usually do so because they already have an opioid addiction and have developed a tolerance for other narcotics. Some people take fentanyl without realizing it, as the drug often appears as counterfeit forms of other opioid medications, or mixed in with heroin or cocaine.
Addicts may take Actiq to combat feelings of anxiety, to self-medicate depression, or to enjoy feelings of euphoria, but the potency of the drug means that the chance of accidental overdose is high, and the symptoms of withdrawal are severe, making anyone who regularly abuses Actiq physically unable to quit the drug on their own.
When taken legally, by prescription under a doctor’s instructions, Actiq can improve a patient’s quality of life during cancer treatment or recovery from surgery. Chronic pain can have a negative impact on all areas of a patient’s life, and if untreated, can lead to mental disorders such as depression and suicidal thoughts.
But overuse and abuse of Actiq will lead to addiction, and serious mental and physical consequences. Taking illegal forms of Actiq is especially dangerous, as the lack of federal oversight means that the amount of fentanyl in individual lozenges may vary greatly.
Am I Addicted to Actiq?
If you fear that you may be addicted to Actiq, ask yourself the questions below:
- Do I abuse Actiq every day?
- Do I abuse the drug in order to combat feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, depression, etc.?
- Have friends or family members mentioned more than once that they are worried about my drug use?
- Do I become hostile or angry when they do so?
- Do I ever experience withdrawal symptoms such as: an inability to feel pleasure, feeling irritable or anxious, confusion, hot flashes, sweating, muscle aches, fatigue and/or difficulty sleeping, thoughts of suicide, intense cravings, loss of appetite, stomach pain, changes in respiration or tremors?
- Do I feel like I can’t have fun, be normal, or complete everyday tasks without Actiq?
- Am I secretive about my drug use, and/or do I lie about when I use or how much I take?
- Do I need more and more Actiq each time I abuse the drug in order to feel its effects?
- Have I experienced any major problems in the last year, such as a breakup, job loss, car accident, family problems, financial problems, or getting arrested as a result of my drug use?
- Despite these problems, do I feel unable to stop using Actiq on my own?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be addicted to Actiq and in need of professional help.
Actiq Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. The NIDA explains that “repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that enable you to exert self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions.”
This is why addicts require professional help to break the cycle of addiction. The treatment specialists at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab are trained in how to manage substance abuse issues and lead addicts safely to recovery.
Detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated. Because withdrawal from Actiq can be extremely unpleasant, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals is ideal. A doctor will likely have you taper off of Actiq gradually, to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Whether addicts choose inpatient residential treatment, and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy.
Individual therapy allows patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is a fundamental tool that can ensure individuals will encounter the best possible environment at home, to prevent relapse.
Other treatment options include:
- Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.
- 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations
- Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.