Fentanyl Addiction: Dangers, Effects, & Treatment Options
In This Article
For those suffering from extreme and chronic pain, fentanyl can provide relief. It's one of the most potent opioid medications, bringing safe relief when taken correctly.
Unfortunately, the risks of fentanyl use range from unpleasant side effects to full-blown addiction. It’s vital for anyone considering taking it to understand its benefits and risks fully.
This post explores fentanyl use's dangers, effects, and treatment options for those addicted. It also looks at how to stay safe while seeking its beneficial properties.
Is Fentanyl Addictive?
Prescription fentanyl has addictive properties that can lead to abuse and misuse. It's a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States, so it has a high potential for abuse and addiction.
Fentanyl is also incredibly potent. This makes it easy for a user to become addicted even when using it as doctors prescribe.
Once you become addicted, you can experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking fentanyl. As such, it can become tough to quit using it without professional help.
How Do Users Misuse Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a commonly misused drug due to its heroin-like effects. People often combine it with other medications to enhance its impact.
Using these drugs can result in overdoses or death if you mix them with fentanyl:
Underground labs illegally produce and distribute fentanyl in various forms. These forms include:
- Blot paper
- Nasal sprays
- Eye drops
What Are the Symptoms of Fentanyl Addiction?
Fentanyl addiction can cause a range of physical and psychological effects, including:
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Neglecting personal hygiene, including grooming and bathing
- Taking more than the prescribed dose or taking fentanyl more frequently
- Making excuses to get the drug
- Isolating from family and friends
- Experiencing financial hardships
- Abusing fentanyl in higher doses to get the same effects
- Taking part in dangerous activities, such as driving under the influence of drugs
- Emotional instability or inability to rationalize emotions
How Can You Overdose on Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful drug that can cause fatal overdoses when you misuse or abuse it. Taking too much of the drug can lead to an overdose, a life-threatening medical emergency.
Illicit fentanyl often gets mixed into various substances, including powders and pills. This mixture puts users at risk of unwittingly consuming deadly synthetic opioids and overdosing.
Illegal, non-pharmaceutical synthetic opioids are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths, responsible for 82.3% of cases in the U.S. In 2020, opioids were involved in 68,630 overdose fatalities, accounting for 74.8% of all drug overdose fatalities.
What Are the Symptoms of Fentanyl Overdose?
Look out for the following symptoms if you think someone may have overdosed on fentanyl:
- Cyanosis (a bluish tinge to the skin, lips, and fingernails)
- Choking or gurgling sounds
- Cold and clammy skin
- Extreme drowsiness
- Generalized hypotonia (limp body)
- Miosis (Constriction of pupils)
- Slow or shallow breathing
Seek medical help immediately if you or someone you know exhibits any of the above signs. Some of the signs above may progress into:
- Cardiopulmonary arrest
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How Do You Treat Fentanyl Addiction?
The best way to treat fentanyl dependence, like other prescription opioid addictions, is through professional help and intervention. Depending on your needs, treatment may include a combination of medication-assisted therapy (MAT) and behavioral therapies.
Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)
One of the best fentanyl addiction treatment options to treat fentanyl abuse is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT combines psychotherapy with medications that can help reduce cravings and painful withdrawal symptoms.
Common MAT medications that treat opioid use disorder include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These drugs don't produce a high, but they can reduce cravings and block the pleasurable effects of opioids like fentanyl.
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: Takes place in an intimate counseling setting; helps people cope with the recovery process and stay abstinent
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: 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; helps people develop healthy habits and encourages them to live drug-free after treatment is completed
Support groups allow people to connect with those who understand the struggles of fentanyl addiction. They provide them with the necessary resources and aid to continue on the path of sobriety.
Examples of support groups include Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery, and Heroin Anonymous (HA). These programs provide people with the necessary support to stay in recovery. They also let them share struggles, successes, experiences, and more.
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What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a prescription opioid analgesic that treats severe pain. It’s a synthetic medication (created in a lab) that belongs to the class of drugs called opioids.
This drug binds to the same receptors as other opioids but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Some of fentanyl’s brand names include:
What Are Fentanyl’s Street Names?
Fentanyl has several street names, including:
- China Town
- Great Bear
- King Ivory
- Dance Fever
- China Girl
- Murder 8
These monikers can make it difficult to tell when someone is discussing fentanyl. However, understanding the generic name of this drug can help you stay safe when with people discussing illicit drugs.
What Forms Does Fentanyl Come In?
The pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl vary, including:
- Buccal tablets (Fentora®): Opioid painkillers in tablet form that you should swallow whole, not break or chew
- Injectables: Requires a prescription and is the best choice for those seeking quick pain relief
- Nasal sprays (Lazanda®): Quick-acting treatment that helps manage severe pain when other opioids don’t provide enough relief
- Oral transmucosal lozenges (Actiq®): Dissolve in the mouth and provide quicker relief than tablets
- Sublingual tablets (Abstral®): Come in small doses you place under the tongue to dissolve.
- Sublingual sprays (Subsys®): Offers quick pain relief and is an excellent alternative to injection
- Transdermal patches (Duragesic): Tiny amounts of fentanyl slowly released through the skin in 48 to 72 hours
Different formulations have varying onset and duration of action, and the relief provided can vary from short-acting to extended-release options.
Depending on the form, fentanyl can relieve pain for 30 minutes to 96 hours. However, its effects can also last longer.
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How Does Fentanyl Work?
Fentanyl binds to specific opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other body parts. These receptors are naturally responsive to opioids like fentanyl.
When fentanyl attaches to these receptors, it reduces pain perception, producing pain-relieving effects. In higher doses, fentanyl can also lead to euphoria due to its interaction with the brain's reward system.
It's essential to recognize that while fentanyl effectively relieves pain, its potential for euphoria and high potency necessitate careful use and monitoring to prevent misuse and addiction.
How Does the Body Metabolize Fentanyl?
The liver efficiently breaks down fentanyl, clearing about 75% of it through urine. Metabolites are mostly excreted, while less than 10% is the original drug. Another 9% of the dose is found in feces, also in the form of metabolites.
What Is Fentanyl Prescribed For?
Physicians typically prescribe this drug to manage intense pain following invasive surgical procedures. They also recommend it to people already tolerant of weaker opioids and those aged 18+ battling advanced cancer.
The dose of fentanyl depends on the following factors:
- Physical condition
- Existing medical conditions
- Anesthesia type
- Medication use
- Nature of a surgical procedure
Generally, the drug comes in two dosage forms:
- Short-Acting: Released quickly into the bloodstream to relieve pain; typically taken as an injection or lozenge
- Long-Acting: Slowly released into the bloodstream; typically taken as a lozenge, adhesive skin patch, or transdermal patch
Fentanyl injection doesn’t have an antimicrobial ingredient. It's essential to use it only once and dispose of any remaining solution.
Fentanyl Contraindications and Drug Interactions
When fentanyl interacts with other medications, the combination potentially decreases its effectiveness or triggers harmful side effects. It's essential to talk to your doctor about all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take before taking fentanyl.
Substances that can interact with fentanyl include:
- General anesthetics
These substances can increase the risk of overdose when consumed with fentanyl. They can cause intense sedation, respiratory depression, and even death.
Fentanyl Interaction with Depressants
Combining fentanyl and other depressants has a potential compounded effect on the central nervous system. The combination of fentanyl and benzodiazepines is especially dangerous.
This combination can lead to severe respiratory depression. Breathing becomes dangerously slow or even stops due to the compounded depressant effects of both medications on the central nervous system.
This interaction increases the risk of overdose and significantly threatens someone’s health and well-being.
Fentanyl Interactions with Health Conditions
Fentanyl, like other prescription opioids, can also interact with certain health conditions:
- Bronchial asthma
- Head injuries and increased pressure in the skull
- Hypersensitivity or intolerance to fentanyl or other opioid drugs
- Myasthenia gravis (a disease that affects the muscles)
- Usage of monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI)
- People who recently had surgery on the biliary tract
If you have any of these, inform your doctor before taking fentanyl. They can adjust the dosage or recommend alternative treatments.
What Are the Side Effects and Risks of Fentanyl Use?
Common side effects of fentanyl include:
- Extreme euphoria
- Depression (after the high wears off)
- Difficulty Breathing
- Feeling sedated
Severe side effects of fentanyl include:
- Tolerance to the drug, resulting in dependence and addiction
- High risk of an overdose
- Respiratory depression and arrest
- Reduced blood pressure
What Are Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms?
If you’re addicted to fentanyl, intense opioid withdrawal symptoms will occur after stopping use. These signs can arise just a couple of hours after quitting the drug:
- Extreme, uncontrollable cravings for the drug
- Bone pain
- Muscle pain
- Leg spasms
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that doctors prescribe for pain management. Users also misuse it because it produces heroin-like effects. Fentanyl can be incredibly addictive and lead to overdose if you misuse or abuse it.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of a fentanyl overdose, seek medical help immediately. Treatment options are available to get your life back on track.
The best way to treat fentanyl addiction is by taking a holistic approach to recovery. Treatments like MAT, behavioral therapies, and support groups help people manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
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- U.S. Department of Justice. “Fentanyl.” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. n.d.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Fentanyl.” MedlinePlus, 2023.
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- “Fentanyl.” U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Fentanyl Drug Facts.” U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Drug Overdose Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
- Cultivating Health. “Fentanyl facts, overdose signs to look for, and how you can help save a life.” UC Davis Health, 2023.
- “Fentanyl Data Sheet.” Medsafe.