Fentanyl is an extremely addictive synthetic opioid drug that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. Due to this potency, fentanyl abuse can quickly lead to tolerance, addiction, or deadly overdose.
Breaking the cycle of fentanyl addiction is possible with comprehensive treatment. By choosing treatment, a person is given an opportunity for a healthier, drug-free life.
Fentanyl has a high potential for abuse and can cause severe physical or psychological dependence.
Fentanyl is sold illegally and abused due to the way its effects largely mimic heroin. Like heroin, fentanyl creates its effects by binding to opioid receptors in the brain that regulate pain and emotions.
Fentanyl takes two forms: pharmaceutical fentanyl or illicit fentanyl. Either of these can be abused in a way that leads to addiction.
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Pharmaceutical of prescription fentanyl is used to treat severe pain in individuals who are not able to be treated with other medications and who need around-the-clock pain management. It is also used to treat breakthrough pain. Most commonly it is prescribed to treat pain after surgery or pain in cancer patients.
Prescription fentanyl is available in several forms, including as a(n):
- buccal tablet (Fentora)
- injection (Sublimaze)
- lozenges or fentanyl “lollipops” as they are also called (Actiq)
- nasal spray (Lazanda)
- transdermal patch (Duragesic)
- sublingual tablet (Abstral)
Illicit or illegally made fentanyl is produced in clandestine labs and is quite often shipped into the US from China.
When purchased off the street, Fentanyl may be found:
- on blotter paper
- in eye droppers
- in a nasal spray
- as a powder
It may also be put in counterfeit pills that resemble other prescription opioid painkillers. Fentanyl is increasingly being mixed into other drugs, including cocaine, heroin, MDMA (ecstasy and molly), and methamphetamine.
Fentanyl is abused in a number of ways, including by injection, snorting it, smoking it, swallowing it, or by taking it on a blotter paper. When fentanyl patches are abused, a person may extract the drug from the patch so that they can inject or swallow it.
No matter the form or way the drug is taken, fentanyl abuse can cause a number of short- and long-term health problems, including overdose and death.
Fentanyl Abuse Signs And Symptoms
As fentanyl use increases a person can develop a tolerance. A tolerance occurs when someone no longer feels the pleasurable effects they seek at their typical dose. Because of this, an individual may increase the dose they take. Doing so increases the risk of addiction and overdose.
When a person takes fentanyl on a frequent basis, the brain begins to change. At this time, the brain becomes less sensitive, a change that makes it difficult for a person to experience pleasure from anything but the drug.
Because of this, an individual will likely have strong and overwhelming desires, or cravings, to take the drug. This will lead to more frequent and regular episodes of drug seeking and use, behaviors that can accelerate addiction. Finding and taking fentanyl will often become more important than responsibilities or activities a person once enjoyed.
During this period, a person may also become dependent on fentanyl. This means that an individual’s body can no longer function normally without the drug. For this reason, a person will likely become extremely sick, or go into withdrawal, should they suddenly stop taking the drug.
An individual may also have a hard time controlling their drug use and find it hard to stop or cut back, even if they want to. As a person sinks deeper into addiction, they will likely continue to take the drug even though it’s hurting their body, mind, job, or family life.
Fentanyl Abuse Short-Term Effects
As such a potent drug, the effects of fentanyl may be felt very quickly after a person takes the drug. People who inject fentanyl may feel these effects even faster.
While some people self-medicate with fentanyl for its ability to relieve pain, the drug is highly abused to create a sense of euphoria and a deep sense of relaxation.
When a person is taking fentanyl in these ways, they may experience the following short-term effects of fentanyl abuse:
- excessive happiness
- nausea and vomiting
Taking fentanyl may cause a person to become unconscious or have breathing problems. Even in the short term, abuse of fentanyl can be very dangerous. A single use of fentanyl could cause life-threatening respiratory depression and overdose.
Fentanyl Abuse Long-Term Effects, Risks, And Dangers
While both prescription and illegally made fentanyl can be highly dangerous when abused, the CDC reports that fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death are largely linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
Long-term abuse of opioids such as fentanyl can lead to heart or respiratory problems. Further, people who inject fentanyl and share needles have an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or other infectious diseases.
Taking fentanyl while pregnant could lead to low birth weight, miscarriage, and neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Fentanyl Overdose Signs And Dangers
In 2017, nearly six out of 10 opioid-related deaths were linked to fentanyl. Fentanyl is so potent, that even a small amount of the drug may cause overdose. Some individuals may overdose on fentanyl without even realizing they’ve taken it.
Fentanyl is increasingly being cut or laced into other drugs, such as heroin, fake prescription pills, and even cocaine. When a person takes a dose of these drugs that they’re accustomed to, they may be receiving a toxic or deadly amount of fentanyl.
When overdose begins, a person may become extremely drowsy. As overdose continues, this intense sleepiness may progress to stupor or coma. If a person is unconscious, they may not be able to be awakened.
Additional signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include:
- blue or purplish fingernails or lips
- cold, clammy, and/or pale skin
- gurgling noises
- a person’s body goes limp
- a person can’t speak
- pinpoint pupils
- slowed or stopped heartbeat
One of the greatest dangers of a fentanyl overdose is when a person’s breathing slows or stops, a state referred to as respiratory depression.
As this occurs, the brain may not receive enough oxygen, a serious medical condition called hypoxia. Coma, permanent brain damage, and death can all result from hypoxia.
Being aware of the signs of an overdose could help a person get emergency treatment for themselves or a loved one. With the right treatments, these and other dangers may be prevented.
If naloxone is administered soon enough, the effects of an overdose may be reversed. Because fentanyl is so powerful, multiple doses of naloxone may be needed. Narcan is a nasal spray form of naloxone that is commonly used this way.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Signs And Symptoms
As such as strong opioid, fentanyl abuse can quickly cause dependence. When a person is dependent, they will likely feel sick should they stop or reduce their dose.
Fentanyl withdrawal can produce painful and uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- cold flashes
- muscle and bone pain
- muscle tremors
- nausea and vomiting
- runny nose
- teary eyes
While opioid withdrawal is not itself life-threatening, certain complications from it may be.
If a person becomes sick and aspirates, or breathes in their vomit, they could choke and die. Inhaling vomit could also cause aspiration pneumonia, a serious condition that could lead to coma, shock, or death.
For these reasons, a person should never detox from fentanyl on their own. A professional medical detox program provides a safe and monitored environment that can help to protect from these risks.
Fentanyl Withdrawal And Detox Treatment Programs
An inpatient withdrawal management program, otherwise known as inpatient detox, may be necessary for people who are moderately to severely addicted to fentanyl.
Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal can become extreme. Paired with intense cravings, these states may push a person to relapse as they try to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
A residential medical detox program provides 24-hour oversight and medical care, support that can be a critical component of reducing the risk of relapse and improving success at this time.
An inpatient medically supervised detox program for fentanyl addiction typically uses medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Suboxone and other buprenorphine-based medications are evidence-based treatments that are frequently used at this time.
A person remains in this safe and comfortable environment while their body cleanses the drug from its system. Once a person has stabilized, they can move to rehab to begin the next stage of treatment.
A detox program focuses on treating the physical addiction. The best chance for obtaining sobriety occurs when both the physical and psychological addictions are treated. A drug rehab program for fentanyl addresses the mental, emotional, behavioral, and social parts of addiction.
Finding A Fentanyl Drug Rehab Program
Fentanyl addiction can be severe. For this reason, a person should be evaluated to see if an inpatient drug rehab program is right for them. Inpatient treatment, also known as a residential rehab program, provides the highest level of care.
This intensive level of care can be critical for people who are severely addicted. Residential treatment may also be recommended for individuals who are addicted to more than one drug, who have been addicted for a long period of time, or who have experienced chronic relapse.
A clinical assessment can help treatment clinicians decide what form and length of treatment is right for a person’s needs. This evaluation can also determine if a person has any mental health disorders that may require additional care.
When a person has a mental health disorder and addiction it’s called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis addiction treatment treats both disorders within the same program. People with these needs may also find the greatest benefit in an inpatient program.
Behavioral therapies are a key part of treatment, both for addiction and dual diagnoses. At Vertava Health of Texas, we use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to help our clients find healing and stability as they recover from addiction and mental illnesses.
Contact Vertava Health of Texas today for more information on fentanyl abuse, addiction, and treatment options.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Fentanyl
- DailyMed — LABEL: ACTIQ- fentanyl citrate lozenge
- MedlinePlus — Fentanyl, Fentanyl Nasal Spray, Fentanyl Transdermal Patch, Opiate and opioid withdrawal, Opioid Overdose
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Fentanyl, Fentanyl: What is fentanyl?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
- U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration — Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide 2017 Edition