Fentanyl Abuse: Addiction, Withdrawal, & Treatment Options

Fentanyl is an opioid prescription painkiller that is used for acute severe pain after surgery or trauma and chronic pain from cancer. It’s also commonly misused, contributing to increasing numbers of overdose fatalities in recent years.1 Fentanyl is an exceptionally powerful opioid that is estimated to be 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies fentanyl as a Schedule II drug, which means it’s a narcotic with strong potential for abuse.1, 2 However, much of the fentanyl that is used as an illicit drug is manufactured illegally.1
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About Fentanyl

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug used to help people alleviate severe pain, typically after surgery. It’s prescribed in some cases to people with long-term chronic pain that is not effectively treated by other opioids.3 Common brand names for fentanyl include:

  • Actiq.
  • Duragesic.
  • Abstral.
  • Sublimaze.

Prescription fentanyl comes in several forms including lozenges, patches that adhere to the skin, sublingual tablets, nasal sprays, and injection.1

As with any type of opioid painkiller, fentanyl attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain, relieving pain and creating feelings of relaxation, sedation, and euphoria. However, fentanyl can depress breathing and cause people to become unconscious—and in some cases, die of an overdose.3

While some people abuse prescription fentanyl, much of the fentanyl that people use illicitly comes from illegal laboratories. It’s known by street names such as:

  • Apache.
  • Tango and Cash.
  • China Girl.
  • Jackpot.
  • King Ivory.
  • Murder 8.

Illicit fentanyl often comes in the form of tablets or powder. It’s frequently mixed with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine.1

Is Fentanyl Addictive?

Fentanyl is highly addictive. Other opioids, like oxycodone and hydrocodone, are also classified as Schedule II drugs and have the potential for abuse.2 Fentanyl is exceptionally dangerous and addictive due to its potency, especially if other substances like heroin are mixed in with it.

While many people abuse fentanyl after being prescribed the medication, much of fentanyl abuse occurs when it is used illegally or used in other ways than prescribed. The DEA attributes most cases of fentanyl abuse, addiction, and overdoses to illegal forms of fentanyl.4

The increase in illicit fentanyl abuse, and overdose has been growing over the past several years. Fentanyl-related overdoses have increased dramatically.

In 2010, the drug was attributed to about 14% of all opioid-related deaths. That number grew to 59% of all opioid-related deaths by 2017.3

Health Risks of Fentanyl

What are the Side Effects of Fentanyl?

Numerous effects can occur, even when taking fentanyl as your doctor prescribed. The effects of fentanyl include:3

  • Euphoria.
  • Constipation.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Nausea.
  • Confusion.
  • Sedation.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Long-Term Health Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

When a person uses fentanyl, whether illicitly or by prescription, they can become tolerant of the drug over time. Tolerance means that your body gets accustomed to the effects of the drug, and it begins to take more and more of the substance to get the same effects.

It’s also possible to become dependent on fentanyl. Dependence occurs when the brain and body become accustomed to the drug resulting in withdrawal when the dosage is decreased or when the individual stops using the drug.5

Many people can become dependent on a drug without becoming addicted to it. Some people who take prescription fentanyl under a doctor’s supervision may need it to alleviate pain, but they do not become addicted.5

Fentanyl addiction occurs when the body and brain become re-wired because of recurring drug use resulting in a pattern of compulsive misuse that continues even in the face of severe consequences.3, 6

Signs of Fentanyl Abuse

Signs of Fentanyl Abuse

Someone who is misusing fentanyl may exhibit signs such as:8

  • Taking more fentanyl than they originally intended to take.
  • Experiencing increased conflict with loved ones over their use of fentanyl.
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or home due to fentanyl use.
  • Using fentanyl in risky situations, such as while driving.
  • Continuing to use fentanyl even though they know it makes a mental or physical condition worse.
  • Trying to stop using fentanyl, or cutting back, but being unable to do so.
  • Giving up things they used to enjoy in order to use fentanyl.
  • Spending a lot of time and money on finding, using, and recovering from fentanyl.
  • Experiencing cravings for fentanyl.
  • Needing more and more fentanyl to keep feeling its effects.
  • Experiencing physical withdrawal if they stop using.

What to Do if You Suspect Someone Is Abusing Prescription Fentanyl

If your loved one is using prescription fentanyl, they may show the following signs of misuse:9

  • Claiming that their prescription was lost or stolen and asking for another refill.
  • Trying to get multiple prescriptions from different providers.
  • Reporting that their pain is getting worse, even when there is no medical evidence to support a reason why this would be the case.
  • Refusing to consider treatment that does not involve painkillers.
  • Appearing over-sedated.
  • Experiencing deteriorated work performance or personal relationships.

Instead of an intervention, encouraging your loved one or friend to talk to their doctor or a healthcare professional about their fentanyl addiction could help them get started on their journey toward recovery.

You or your loved one could also fill out this form below, which confidentially checks your insurance coverage to see if your health insurance would cover some of the cost of fentanyl addiction treatment at our facility.

Fentanyl Detox & Rehab

How Long Does Fentanyl Withdrawal Last?

Fentanyl withdrawal varies from one person to another. On average, people experience the first symptoms of withdrawal within a few hours of the last use of fentanyl, with symptoms peaking around the 4th day.10

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Various fentanyl withdrawal symptoms will start to appear within a few hours after the person stops using it. Some common symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include:11

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Runny nose.
  • Yawning.
  • Fast pulse.
  • Tearing.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Bone and muscle pain.
  • Muscle spasms.

Detoxing from Fentanyl

If you are struggling with fentanyl addiction, you may feel conflicted about quitting because of the withdrawal effects that many people fear going through.

However, there are many options for controlling uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms during fentanyl detox. Detox, which is typically the first step in the process of treatment helps eliminate fentanyl from your body in a safe and effective manner.11

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment and Rehab Options

There are several ways to get treatment for fentanyl addiction. Detox and ongoing treatment can occur in several settings, such as:11

  • Inpatient treatment, where you go into a rehab program 24/7 and typically stay for a few days to a week or so.
  • Outpatient treatment, which typically consists of treatment a few times per week and you go home at night. An intensive outpatient program typically involves 2-3 hours of treatment, 2-3 times per week.

Treatment for fentanyl addiction can involve numerous approaches. It frequently consists of a combination of behavioral therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy) along with medication-assisted treatment, which can help a person control their cravings for fentanyl on their long-term recovery journey.12

River Oaks, one of American Addiction Centers’ Florida rehab centers, is ready to help you overcome addiction and find long-term recovery. Call us today at to learn more about our addiction treatment options near you.

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