In This Article
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a prescription, synthetic opioid that produces similar effects as morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. This drug is typically prescribed to patients after invasive surgeries to help reduce pain. It can also treat chronic pain in people who have built a tolerance to other less potent opioids. Lastly, doctors often prescribe fentanyl to advanced cancer patients over 18 years of age.
Patients can either take fentanyl as a lozenge, skin patch, or shot. Prescription names for the drug include:
Common “street names” for fentanyl and fentanyl-laced heroin include:
- China White
- China Girl
- Dance Fever
- Murder 8
In the U.S., fentanyl is a schedule II prescription drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse. Due to its highly addictive properties, patients should only take fentanyl as directed by a doctor. Although, people who use fentanyl as prescribed can also become dependent on the drug. Taking too much or increasing your dosage without supervision can also result in serious health complications and addiction over time.
Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids increased by almost 50 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Illegally-Made Fentanyl Addiction and Abuse
When prescribed by a doctor in the correct dosages, fentanyl is safe and effective. However, prescription fentanyl is still linked to abuse and misuse because it has highly addictive properties.
In addition, fentanyl is illegally made in labs and then sold in a powder form or pill form. It can also be dropped on blot paper or put in nasal sprays and eye drops. Illegal, non-pharmaceutical forms of the drug are linked to the most recent cases of fentanyl-related deaths and overdoses in the United States. In fact, in 2016, synthetic opioids (including illegally made fentanyl) were the most common drugs people overdosed and died from.
If you are addicted to fentanyl, intense withdrawal symptoms will develop after stopping use. These side effects can develop just a couple hours after taking the drug. Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Extreme, uncontrollable cravings for the drug
- Bone pain
- Muscle pain
- Leg spasms
- Cold flashes
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
Side Effects and Risks of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is a commonly abused drug because it produces heroin-like effects. Often times, people also combine this drug with heroin, MDMA, methamphetamine, or cocaine to enhance its effects. Although, these are very dangerous drug combinations and typically result in overdoses or death.
Common side effects of fentanyl include:
- Extreme euphoria
- Depression (after the high wears off)
- Difficulties Breathing
- Feeling sedated
On the other hand, severe side effects of fentanyl include:
- Tolerance to the drug, resulting in dependence and addiction
- High risk of an overdose occurring
- Respiratory depression and arrest
- Reduced blood pressure
Since fentanyl is highly potent, there is a high risk an overdose and death will occur. Many times, the illegal form of fentanyl is cut into other powders and pills. As a result, people overdose from synthetic opioids without even knowing the pill they took contained it.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were linked to about 28,400 opioid-related deaths in the U.S. in 2017.
Treatment Options for Opioid Abuse & Addiction
There are several options for people suffering from opioid addiction. These include:
- Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) — There are three medications approved to treat opioid use disorder: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Buprenorphine and methadone can help you manage withdrawal symptoms throughout the detoxification process. Naltrexone is less commonly used, but it blocks your opioid receptors, making it impossible to get high. Medication-assisted therapy is most effective when combined with other forms of treatment.
- Inpatient Programs — Inpatient programs are the most intensive and effective treatment options for opioid addiction. These programs guide you through medically supervised detoxification, then behavioral therapy and other services (possibly including MAT), will be added to your treatment. They typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, however they may be longer if necessary.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) — PHPs are also known as intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). They are the next most intensive type of treatment for opioid addiction. They provide similar services to inpatient programs such as detoxification, behavioral therapy medical services, and custom treatments such as MAT. The difference is that in a PHP, the patient returns home to sleep. Some programs will include transportation and meals, but this varies by program. Partial hospitalization programs are helpful for both new patients and patients who have completed inpatient treatment and still need intensive recovery therapy.
- Outpatient Programs — Outpatient programs work best for people who have a high level of motivation to recover. They create treatment programs that work around your schedule. These programs can either be an effective treatment option for new patients or a part of an aftercare program for people who complete inpatient or partial hospitalization program.
In addition to medications, behavioral therapy and counseling also effectively treat synthetic opioid addictions. They do so by helping people change their behavior and attitudes regarding the drug and learn ways to cope with withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Examples of behavioral therapies include:
- Motivational Interviews — this treatment takes place in an intimate counseling setting. In short, it helps people cope with the recovery process and stay abstinent.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — this form of treatment helps people manage stress, triggers, expectations, and behaviors related to fentanyl.
- Contingency Management — a voucher-based treatment that awards people with “points” based on their length of sobriety. It also helps people develop healthy habits and encourages them to live drug-free after treatment completes.