Opioid Addiction and Fentanyl: Know Early Signs and How to Get Help

By Maria Zate for Cottage Health

Opioid addiction and fatal overdoses are rising at an alarming rate in the state and Santa Barbara County, fueled by the potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

“Fentanyl on its own and paired with other illicit drugs is the biggest problem we are seeing right now,” said Layla Farinpour, director of clinical care for Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine at Cottage Health. “We have not seen this level of overdose crisis before.

“Fentanyl is so powerful and extremely addictive. It is leading the increase in overdose deaths in our area.”

In Santa Barbara County there were 133 overdose deaths between January 2021 and January 2022, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office report “The Changing Overdose Crisis in California: A Community Needs Assessment of Santa Barbara County.”

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine. A lethal dose of fentanyl is about the size of three grains of sugar.

When prescribed, fentanyl is used for pain relief and can be found in tablet form, nasal spray and patches. Some people are introduced to opioids as a prescription for pain relief after surgery or serious injury, Farinpour said.

Those who use recreational drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines may have been exposed knowingly or unknowingly to fentanyl, which is being mixed with other drugs ending in deadly results. Individuals who have used other opiates, such as heroin, have begun using fentanyl instead because of its more powerful effects.

Early signs of a problem with opioid medications can include taking prescribed drugs for longer than recommended, needing higher doses to get the same pain relief, and seeking medications from other people or illegally on the streets.

An opioid use disorder can lead to behavioral changes such as isolation from family and friends, increased conflicts in relationships, problems at work or school, money issues or selling of possessions. 
“Opioid use disorder is a medical illness. It’s not a character defect. It can happen to anyone. Treatments are available and recovery is possible,” Ms. Farinpour said.

Cottage offers an inpatient medically supervised detox unit at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, as well as a traditional residential program known as Cottage Residential Center, plus intensive outpatient programs in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

“The most important thing is to take that first step to say something and reach out for help if someone you care about has an opioid use problem. Early intervention and treatment can make a big impact,” Farinpour said.

“There are also resources available in the community, such as Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness and 12-Step Programs,” she said.
She added that NARCAN, the drug that is used to save someone who is actively overdosing, is available and free at several locations in the county.

Cottage offers NARCAN (naloxone) free to anyone requesting it at all three of their hospital emergency departments (Goleta, Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez Valley), no questions asked.

“If someone you know is struggling with opioids, you may consider learning how to use NARCAN and having it readily available. You can save someone’s life, ” she said.
For more about Cottage Residential Center, call 805-569-7422, or visit www.cottagehealth.org/crc.

Community resources: https://opioidsafetysb.org/treatment-providers/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgQqCaqTIXo

Free NARCAN available at: