Fentanyl Abuse

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What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate pain reliever. It’s typically prescribed to patients for severe pain or injury, or after a patient has undergone surgery. It works quickly to eliminate any pain in the body. However, it can also be very addictive. Fentanyl is much more potent than heroin and 100x more potent than morphine.

Fentanyl was originally synthesized by Paul Janssen of Janssen Pharmaceuticals in 1960. It works to relieve pain quickly, and its effects don’t last long. Users of fentanyl may experience a state of euphoria and relaxation and may abuse it in attempt to seek these feelings on a regular basis.

There are several methods of taking fentanyl. It is often formed into:

  • Patches.
  • Lollipops.
  • Dissolvable tongue film.
  • Pills that dissolve in the cheek.

Because Fentanyl is frequently administered in a hospital setting, people with easier access to the drug (those working in or around a health care setting) may fall prey to fentanyl addiction. Others may start taking fentanyl as prescribed, but become dependent on it.

Fentanyl is often sought out for illicit purposes due to its powerful pain-relieving and relaxing effects. Fentanyl is sometimes mixed with heroin or cocaine to heighten their effects. Combining these drugs is extremely dangerous, as while the effects are heightened, so are the dangers.

NOTE: Many prescriptions are designed to release their effects over time for safety; however, like many drugs there are ways users manipulate fentanyl to release the effects more quickly, e.g, by adding heat to a fentanyl patch. Doing so is dangerous because it sabotages the slow-release mechanism and can lead to overdose.

Signs and Symptoms

There are many common signs that someone is abusing fentanyl, as well as symptoms of fentanyl abuse. These signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse include the following:

  • Confusion.
  • Depression.
  • Difficulty walking.
  • Muscle stiffness.
  • Slowed/altered heart rate.
  • Labored breathing.
  • Weakness.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting.
  • Shaking.

  • Sleepiness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Weight loss.
  • Visual hallucinations.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Itching & scratching.
  • Pinpoint pupils.

In some situations, fentanyl use can also lead to unconsciousness, coma, or even death.

If you recognize the signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse in yourself or a loved one, don’t wait to seek help. Call 1-888-744-0069 to learn how about addiction treatment and the road to recovery.

Is Fentanyl More Deadly Than Heroin?

Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

When someone has a long-term fentanyl problem, that person will likely experience several adverse effects. There are serious mental and physical side effects of prolonged fentanyl abuse in addition to the signs and symptoms of abuse listed above.

Physical Effects

  • Severe gastrointestinal problems, including bowel obstruction and perforation.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Seizures.

Mental Effects

  • Paranoia.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Delusions and personality changes.

Lethal Combinations

When combined with other street drugs like heroin that depress the central nervous system, the user is at increased risk of:

  • Respiratory distress.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

Fentanyl Abuse Treatment

Treatment is an essential component of the recovery process from addiction to Fentanyl. Drug addiction treatment involves a number of components typically starting with detox.


Because fentanyl is both physically and psychologically addictive, a fentanyl addict will experience physical, emotional and mental withdrawal symptoms upon quitting the drug, which can include:

  • Chills.
  • Confusion.
  • Diarrhea.
  • General weakness.
  • Irritability.

  • Joint and muscle pain.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Restlessness.
  • Shaking and tremors.
  • Stomach pain.

Due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms that may occur, it’s important to work with a qualified medical professional to detox comfortably and safely. Detoxing under the supervision of a qualified professional decreases the risk that the user will stop detoxing and sabotage his own recovery in an attempt to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Drug Rehabilitation

Drug rehab centers are an effective way to treat fentanyl abuse. However, opiate dependency is a tenacious condition with a high relapse rate and not all treatment centers are equipped to handle fentanyl addiction. Before choosing a rehab center, find out if they understand and are equipped to treat someone with a fentanyl addiction.

In general, there are a wide variety of treatment options for those seeking rehabilitation from drug use. These options include:

Residential rehabilitation programs usually last anywhere from 30 to 90 days — some programs last up to a year when treating severe cases, which opiate addiction tends to be.

12-step programs offer lifetime support for addicts, both those looking to obtain sobriety and those seeking to maintain it.

If you or someone you love is ready to seek help because of fentanyl abuse, we can help. Call 1-888-744-0069 to discuss your treatment options.

Fentanyl Statistics

Fentanyl is a highly addictive substance that has many inherent dangers. Note the following statistics:

Opiates to heroin stat (NIDA report)

  • According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), between 2005 and 2007, fentanyl abuse killed more than 1,000 people in the U.S.
  • According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) Journal, nurses and anesthesiologists have a higher probability of abusing Fentanyl than the general public.
  • Per the DEA, over 12 varieties of drugs currently being trafficked have been produced illicitly in labs to resemble fentanyl.
  • Per a report by the CDC, those addicted to opiate painkillers are 40 times more likely to abuse or become dependent on heroin.

Teen Fentanyl Abuse

Teens are rarely prescribed fentanyl; however, they may get access to a parent or other relative’s prescription. It’s extremely important to secure all narcotic prescriptions in a locked cabinet or other secure location.

Using a relative’s fentanyl is arguably the most common way a teen can obtain the drug; however, fentanyl is sold on the street in powder form under the street names listed above. Again, it is often mixed with other drugs to increase their effects.

You can help prevent Fentanyl abuse in your teen by:

  • Having a discussion with your teenage children about drug abuse
    • Make sure to underscore the risks of prescription drug abuse.
  • Keeping medicines in a secure, locked location.
  • Keeping tabs on the amount of Fentanyl you have used.
  • Listening for mention of the street names for fentanyl, such as “Tango” or “China white.”

Additional Resources

To learn more about the dangers of fentanyl addiction and how to get help, see the following articles:

You can also visit our DrugAbuse.com Forum to join the conversation about fentanyl addiction and the path to recovery.

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Patrick Condron, M.Sc., M.A.C., is an addiction specialist and drug and alcohol counselor. He is Executive Director of Lazarus House, Inc., a transitional residential program for men and women who continue to work on their recovery towards independent living.
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