I lay for three hours on a hospital bed with pain from kidney stones.

The first shot of morphine had little impact; the second got me to a much better place.

This took place a few years ago. Now, I read this: “Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent,” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

I simply have trouble fathoming the potency of this drug. I feared the addictive power of morphine, but fentanyl is in another world.

When you hear of the opioid crisis, think of fentanyl. It’s a big part of it but not all of it.

It takes a doctor’s prescription to get this schedule II drug and is used for “patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery,” NIDA says.

The U.S. has five drug classifications. Schedule II drugs have “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence,” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration explains.

Anyone who has had serious pain understands the importance of relief. Pain is serious business requiring a serious response, but patients have not always understood the long-term impact of opioids like fentanyl; many probably did not even know it was an opioid.

I think back to that day when I lay in pain with my kidney stones. The doctor came in and said, “We are going to give you some morphine.” I replied, “Great!”

If he had said, “We are going to give you some fentanyl,” I would have replied, “Whatever it takes!”

If he had said, “We are going to give you some opium,” I would have replied, “What?”

We regular folks have a general understanding that opium is powerful and dangerous. It’s a trigger word.

So, what is an opioid?

NIDA says, “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and many others. These drugs are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain.”

That doesn’t help me a lot, but it gives a little information.

The next sentences take us deeper into understanding. “Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use – even as prescribed by a doctor – can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths.”

Key phrases: “produce euphoria,” “can be misused,” “regular use … can lead to dependence” and “can lead to overdose.”

The opioid crisis is real. These legal and illegal drugs are ruining lives – taking lives. We need to learn, understand and respond.

Any of us could be the next victim because pain comes to all at one time or another.

Ferrell Foster is director of ethics and justice for the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Christian Life Commission. A version of this article first appeared on the BGCT’s blog. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ferrellfoster.

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