Fentanyl is a potent and highly addictive opioid that is used to treat severe or chronic pain. It is also one of the primary causes of the recent spike in overdoses across the United States.
In 2016, nearly 70 percent of fentanyl overdose deaths in the U.S. involved other drugs, which were often laced with fentanyl without the person’s knowledge. In 2017, more than 28,000 of the nation’s overdose deaths involved fentanyl or a similar substance.
Because fentanyl is one of the most deadly opioids on the market, it’s essential that those who are at risk of fentanyl addiction get the help they need as soon as possible.
Signs Of Fentanyl Abuse And Addiction
As with other opiates, the primary symptoms of fentanyl abuse include lethargy, drowsiness, and euphoria. People who abuse this drug seek the pleasant feeling of relaxation and the euphoric high.
Someone who abuses fentanyl may soon develop a tolerance to their initial dose of the drug, meaning that they will need a higher dose to achieve the same high even after just a few days of use. The more a person uses fentanyl, the more their brain and body adapt and rely on it, which can quickly lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Whether fentanyl used medically or illicitly, the following symptoms indicate a cause for concern regarding abuse:
- suppression of breathing
- nausea or vomiting
- dry mouth
- severe constipation
- loss of appetite
- retention of urine
- itching or hives
- difficulty sleeping
- vision trouble
If a person has become addicted to fentanyl, they may show these symptoms as well as signs of addiction, such as financial trouble, relationship strain, drug seeking, difficulties at work and other significant behavioral changes.
What Is Fentanyl?
Marketed as Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze, Fentanyl is a potent opioid used primarily for pain relief. It is similar to morphine, only it’s 50 to 100 times more potent.
Fentanyl is commonly used for pain relief after surgery, chronic illness, or for people who have developed a high tolerance to other therapeutic opiates. It takes effect quickly—in as little as five minutes—while other opioids can take up to an hour to be effective. This makes fentanyl attractive as a substance of abuse.
Fentanyl Abuse Methods
When a doctor prescribes fentanyl, it usually takes the form of a shot, a patch that can be placed on the skin, or a lozenge that can be ingested like a cough drop.
Illicit fentanyl may be created in a lab and sold as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, or stored in nasal sprays and eye droppers. It may also be made into pills that resemble other prescription opioids, such as oxycodone (OxyContin).
Much of the fentanyl in the illicit market is laced into heroin, cocaine, and other drugs without the knowledge of the person buying them.
Whether or not a person intentionally abuses fentanyl, they may take it by mouth, snort it, or inject it. Snorting (insufflation) and injecting into a vein take the drug directly to the bloodstream for an immediate and intense effect, while taking it orally allows it to pass through the digestive system first.
Health Effects Of Fentanyl Abuse
Fentanyl abuse can have both short-term and long-term effects, even causing permanent damage to the body and the brain after continued exposure. The short-term effects include pain relief, euphoria, slurred speech, and decreased blood pressure.
Long-term effects of fentanyl abuse include respiratory issues, organ damage, and depleted levels of naturally-occurring neurotransmitters that regulate pain, hormone release and feelings of well-being.
Fentanyl Overdose Signs
An overdose of fentanyl can overwhelm the central nervous system, disrupting the pathways that control heart function and breathing. Many people who overdose on fentanyl will fall asleep and never wake up.
If someone at risk of a fentanyl overdose is breathing exceptionally shallow or slow, this is a warning sign that he or she may have overdosed.
Additional signs of a fentanyl overdose include the following:
- inability to talk
- difficulty walking
- constricted pupils
- blue-tinted skin from lack of oxygen
Combining fentanyl with alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other opioids like heroin that have a similar effect on the central nervous system make the risk of overdose even greater.
When someone is physically dependent on fentanyl—which may be a sign of abuse and addiction—they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop taking it.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may be:
- joint and muscle pain
- nausea and vomiting
- elevated heart rate
- increased breathing rate
These symptoms are most intense in the first few days off of the drug but will begin to level out in a week or so. Because they can be uncomfortable and even dangerous, a person should not attempt to go through the withdrawal process alone.
Often, withdrawal symptoms lead someone to take more of the drug, which worsens their dependence and addiction.
Medically Supervised Detox For Fentanyl
Opioid addiction treatment at The Bluffs begins with medically supervised detox. This inpatient service ensures a person’s safety as they rid their body of fentanyl. They will be closely monitored and may be given medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms and discomfort.
Treatment For Fentanyl Addiction
Most people are better able to focus on treating their mental addiction once physical dependence has been eased through detox. Our inpatient rehab program at The Bluffs involves a multidisciplinary approach that deals with the root causes of fentanyl abuse.
We use a variety of treatment methods to address different areas of a person’s life that have contributed to and been altered by addiction.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly reputed type of psychotherapy that is focused on solution-based thinking, overcoming destructive patterns of behavior, and creating manageable goals.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is designed to help patients cope with conflict in their relationships and difficult emotions. Developing these skills helps improve problem-solving skills and encourages acceptance.
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Dual diagnosis treatment addresses co-occurring mental health disorders and substance use disorders, which are very often linked.
Experiential and adventure therapy includes self-expression through art and music, as well as outdoor activities and regular exercise to build healthy, mood-stabilizing habits.
Family therapy helps repair relationships that have been damaged by fentanyl addiction and encourages family members to support their loved one in recovery.
Addiction recovery is not an easy process, and we are here to support you every step of the way. Rather than using a one-size-fits-all model, we create unique treatment plans that address each person’s needs to ensure their success in the recovery process.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Opioid Overdose: Fentanyl
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Drug Facts: Fentanyl
- USA Today — Fentanyl: 10 questions about the hidden drug that kills people every day
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration — Duragesic Label