What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl, also known as Fetty, is a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. While the effects it produces are similar to morphine, fentanyl is much more potent and dangerous.
Fentanyl is a schedule II prescription drug that is used to manage severe pain or pain after surgery, but it is also a street drug that is often sold as heroin or pressed into counterfeit pills to increase the potency and decrease the cost for the supplier. But since fentanyl is much stronger than other opioids, it is also more deadly.
Today, fentanyl is a major contributor to both fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl and fentanyl analogs increased by more than 56% from 2019 to 2020 and that more than 150 people die every day from overdoses related to fentanyl. On average, more than 68% of overdose deaths involving heroin also involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is fentanyl that is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain. It is most often used for pain management after surgery and for advanced-stage cancer as well as to treat pain in people who are physically tolerant to other opioids. In prescription form, brand names of fentanyl include Actiq, Duragesic, and Subsys.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl comes in many different forms, including:
- An injection (Sublimaze)
- An extended-release transdermal patch (Duragesic)
- A buccal tablet (Fentora)
- A sublingual tablet (Abstral)
- A sublingual spray (Subsys)
- A nasal spray (Lazanda)
- Lozenges or lollipops (Actiq)
These medications are highly regulated and rarely make their way onto the streets. Instead, most fentanyl overdoses can be attributed to illegally manufactured fentanyl.
Illegally Manufactured Fentanyl (IMF)
Illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is manufactured in clandestine laboratories or smuggled into the U.S. from other countries. It is available in the illegal drug market in various different forms ranging from a powder to a tasteless, odorless, and colorless liquid.
Powdered fentanyl looks similar to other powdered drugs like cocaine or fentanyl, so it is often combined with drugs like these or pressed into pills that resemble prescription medications. Other drugs that may be combined with fentanyl include methamphetamine and MDMA. All drugs that are laced with fentanyl are extremely dangerous and carry a high risk for overdose and death.
Liquid fentanyl can be found in the form of eye drops, nasal sprays, or dropped onto blotter paper or small candies.
Popular street names for IMF include:
- China Girl
- Murder 8
Fentanyl Side Effects and Signs of Abuse
Fentanyl works similarly to other opioid drugs like heroin and morphine. It binds to opioid receptors in the body and reduces feelings of pain. As an opioid, it is a depressant drug that produces calming, analgesic effects.
Side effects of fentanyl abuse include:
- Extreme happiness
- Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
- Going in and out of consciousness or “nodding out”
- Small, pinpoint pupils
- Difficulty breathing or slowed breathing
Why is Fentanyl so Dangerous?
Fentanyl is extremely powerful–more than many other prescription and illicit opioids, but that isn’t the only reason why it is dangerous. Street drugs increasingly contain deadly levels of fentanyl that drug users are unable to see, taste, or smell. Unless they are testing their drugs using fentanyl test strips, there is no way for drug users to know whether fentanyl is in their drugs and, if so, how much fentanyl the drugs contain.
For example, a person who is addicted to heroin may purchase heroin from the same person they usually do and take the same dose that they usually do, but if the dose contains fentanyl, the person could be susceptible to an overdose.
Opioids aren’t the only drug being laced with fentanyl, though. Counterfeit prescription pills such as oxycodone or Xanax are also reported to be laced with the deadly synthetic opioid. People who think they are taking a prescription pill may unknowingly ingest fentanyl and experience a life-threatening overdose. This is particularly dangerous for people who do not have a tolerance to opioids because even a tiny, grain-sized amount can cause an overdose in someone without an opioid tolerance.
Symptoms of Fentanyl Overdose
Because of how widespread fentanyl is today, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose so bystanders can intervene and save a life.
Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include:
- Small, constricted, or “pinpoint” pupils
- Flushed or pale-colored skin
- Falling asleep, having trouble staying awake, or losing consciousness
- Slow, weak, or no breathing
- Choking or gurgling sounds
- Limp body
- Bluish-colored lips and fingertips
- Cold and clammy skin
If someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately to get emergency medical services on the way. Then:
- Administer naloxone (Narcan) if you have it. Spray the entire contents into the nostrils. If the person doesn’t respond after 3 minutes, you may give a second dose.
- Try to keep the person awake and breathing. Continue talking to them or rub their sternum with your knuckles to get a response.
- Lay the person on their side to prevent choking or aspiration.
- Stay with the person until emergency services arrive.
Naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose, but it can wear off faster than some opioids do, so it’s vital to make sure the person gets medical help and support in the hours after their overdose.
Fentanyl Addiction, Dependence, and Withdrawal
Like other opioids, fentanyl is highly addictive. Regular use can lead to physical dependence, a health condition characterized by withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person suddenly stops using a habit-forming drug. Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include:
- Flu-like symptoms (body aches, runny nose, watery eyes)
- Cold flashes with goosebumps
- Insomnia and sleep problems
- Muscle and bone pain
- Intense drug cravings
- Depression and anxiety
These symptoms are extremely uncomfortable and painful to endure, so it is always best for someone who is addicted to fentanyl to detox at a licensed medical facility.
In addition to physical dependence, people experiencing fentanyl addiction may also:
- Be unable to control how often they use the drug
- Make multiple failed attempts to drop using fentanyl
- Develop a tolerance that makes them use higher doses of fentanyl over time
- Lie to friends and family about drug use
- Feel as though they cannot function “normally” without fentanyl or another opioid
- Engage in dangerous, risky behaviors
Because fentanyl is extremely potent, an addiction can develop quickly.
Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
The sooner a person seeks treatment for fentanyl abuse and addiction, the better. A combination of detox medications and behavioral therapies is used to treat fentanyl addiction.
First, treatment begins with detox. clients undergo a comprehensive assessment so the clinical team can develop a customized treatment plan that involves 24-hour medical supervision, prescription medications, and emotional support. Since fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be extremely painful, doctors may prescribe medications like buprenorphine or methadone to reduce the severity of symptoms.
After detoxing, clients transition to a residential or outpatient treatment program where they engage in behavioral therapy, group counseling, and holistic healing activities that encourage sobriety. The goal of these services is to address and treat the root cause of addiction and teach clients healthy coping skills that serve as a form of relapse prevention.
Before finishing treatment, clients will work closely with their therapist to develop a detailed aftercare plan that will pave the way for long-term sobriety outside the walls of a rehab center.
Find Help for Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction Today
If you or a loved one are struggling with fentanyl addiction, it’s vital that you seek treatment as soon as possible. Long-term fentanyl use is addictive and deadly. No matter how high your opioid tolerance may be, fentanyl can be stronger.
Don’t wait any longer to get the life-changing support you deserve. Call now to speak with a qualified admissions coordinator at Sheer Recovery to start your recovery journey.