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:
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.
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:
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:
On the other hand, severe side effects of fentanyl include:
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.
Fentanyl is habit-forming, so physical dependence and psychological addiction can develop very quickly. If you suspect you or a loved one is addicted to the drug, treatment is necessary to prevent an overdose and death. Similar to other opioids, such as morphine and heroin, behavioral therapy in combination with medications is effective in treating people with a fentanyl addiction. For example, common medications include:
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:
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“Fentanyl.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 May 2019, www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/fentanyl.html.
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“Fentanyl.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Fentanyl#section=Other-CAS.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Fentanyl.” NIDA, 6 June 2016, www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/fentanyl.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Fentanyl.” NIDA, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl.