Fentanyl Addiction and Abuse

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) recently highlighted the increasing number of overdose-related deaths, and the growing ease with which recreational drug users are acquiring synthetic opioids on the streets. When fentanyl arrived in the UK, the extent of its danger was still unknown.

Those who dared to experiment with the drug described the effect as a warm, euphoric high, followed by a sudden knockout. Tom Petty, singer, actor and songwriter, was the latest well-known casualty to overdose on fentanyl. Addiction expert Ben Levenson says the powerful opiate narcotic is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 25 to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Fentanyl was originally synthesised by Paul Janssen in 1959 for palliative care and is currently marketed under brand names like Sublimaze, Actiq and Duragesic. The drug started disappearing from pharmacies in the 1970s and appeared on the streets under nicknames like Tango, TNT, Jackpot and Apache. Although the DEA discovered illegal labs in the 80s and 90s, it was in the mid-2000s that fentanyl gained notoriety due to related drug overdoses.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl (also known as fentanil) is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic, scheduled as a Class II prescription drug under the Controlled Substance Act. In the medical field, it is used to manage severe pain after an accident, injury or surgery. It’s also prescribed for patients who have a physical tolerance for opioid and are experiencing chronic pain that requires 24-hour relief.

Other names for Fentanyl

Coming into contact with fentanyl could cause the drug to accidentally release into your bloodstream. For children or people who aren’t tolerant to narcotics, this is a life-threatening situation. Large quantities of narcotics in fentanyl patches make them attractive to people with substance use misdisorder. When sold on the streets, some of the nicknames for fentanyl include:

  • Goodfella
  • China girl
  • Dance Fever
  • King ivory
  • TNT
  • Cash
  • Chine white
  • Friend
  • Tango

What is Fentanyl Used For?

In the medical field, fentanyl is used as anaesthesia for patients during heart surgery, managing breakthrough pain in cancer patients and those with moderate to severe chronic pain that requires 24-hour opioids for pain relief.

Causes of Fentanyl Addiction

A few reasons why you might develop an addiction to fentanyl include:

Genetics: if your parents or a family member was treated for drug addiction, the chances that you might suffer the same addiction will be higher.

Socio-environmental factors: Living in an area where you’ve been exposed to drugs at a young age or if you have friends who are using drugs, you might feel pressured to experiment.

Psychological factors: many people take drugs to escape past trauma or self-medicate a mental problem, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression.

Addicts who try fentanyl do so for the powerful potency of the drug. Most say it produces five times the effect of heroin in a single dose. The effect of the drug on your brain rapidly changes its chemistry and makes you addicted.

Addictive Properties of Fentanyl

Although far more potent than heroin, the chemical structure of fentanyl differs slightly because it has a medical purpose. The fast-acting drug simulates a large production of dopamine in the brain. Such huge amounts of dopamine trigger the reward centre that motivates a user to stay addicted to drugs.

Methods of Fentanyl Usage

Legitimate methods of use include:

Transdermal patch: marketed under the brand name Duragesic. It slowly releases fentanyl into the bloodstream over a period of two to three days and is ideal for patients who can’t swallow.

Nasal Spray: marketed as Lazanda, the spray stops pain for opioid-tolerant cancer patients.

Injection: marketed as Sublimaze.

Lozenge: marketed as Actiq and prescribed for patients whose pain can’t be controlled with other painkillers, such as Vicodin and Percocet.

When abused, the drug is injected, eaten, snorted or sucked on.

What Does It Mean to Be Addicted to Fentanyl?

When you’re addicted to fentanyl, it acts on opioid receptors in the brain and changes the way you behave, feel or think. Addicts cannot quit fentanyl on their own, even when the desire is there. You’re always chasing the next ‘high’ and find that the only time you feel yourself is when you’re taking fentanyl. In spite of the health risks and damage addiction does to your family, you keep using because the fentanyl high is all you care about.

Explaining the lure and risk of fentanyl abuse

For patients who want to block breakthrough pain, fentanyl is very effective and has a numbing effect. When you develop tolerance, it’s easy to increase dosage without informing your doctor. Doctors can be quick to prescribe narcotic painkillers to patients without informing them about the addictive nature, and once your body develops tolerance, addiction grows thereafter.

The risk of fentanyl usage lies in the potency. A small dose achieves quicker results than other opioids, and most people don’t know the risk of overdosing from fentanyl, especially when the body hasn’t built a tolerance for the drug.

Spotting Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl is a powerful analgesic painkiller that works fast in small amounts. Recreational substance users abuse fentanyl for the euphoric high and feeling of relaxation the drug induces. A few signs to look out for when someone is abusing fentanyl include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Itching
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Urine retention
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite

Apart from these physical signs of fentanyl abuse, you might also notice rapid mood changes, paranoia, desire to stay indoors, loss of motivation to achieve life goals and other personal and behavioural changes associated with drug abuse.

Fentanyl Abuse Signs and Symptoms

There are some common signs an individual exhibits from abusing fentanyl. They include:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Laboured breathing
  • Shaking
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Stiff muscles
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Scratching
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleepiness

In extreme situations, fentanyl abuse leads to unconsciousness, coma and even death. If you recognise these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, get help for fentanyl addiction today.

Health Risks from Fentanyl Addiction

There is no safe usage of opiates. Even people taking it under prescription sometimes become addicted and develop substance misuse disorders. Some health risks associated with fentanyl include:

  • Developing a polydrug use problem by taking fentanyl mixed with heroin
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Severe confusion
  • Respiratory distress
  • Altered sense of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Weak immune system that makes you susceptible to illness
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as bowel obstruction
  • Risk of overdose and death
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Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl

Short-term effects of fentanyl comprise reduced pain, relaxation and euphoria.

Long-term effects of fentanyl include:

  • Strained relationships
  • Worsening mental health and physical health conditions
  • Risk of anoxic injury due to organ system damage
  • Respiratory impairment
  • Reduced libido
  • Mood instability
  • Menstrual problems
  • Increased risk of death from fentanyl overdose

Withdrawal Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

Patients taking fentanyl for pain relief and those with substance dependency may both experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit the substance.

Effects of fentanyl withdrawal include: stomach cramps, insomnia, high blood pressure, nausea, sweating, extreme restlessness, weakness, irritability, vomiting, runny nose, teary eyes, as well as muscle and bone pain.

Co-Occurring Disorders

There’s a direct relationship between substance misuse disorder and co-occurring disorders. A co-occurring disorder is a situation where an individual exhibits signs of substance misuse disorder and a mental health problem at the same time.

Individuals who are struggling with fentanyl addiction exhibit symptoms of:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Stimulant misuse disorder
  • Alcohol misuse disorder
  • Other substance misuse disorder

When an individual is suffering from a mental health disorder and substance abuse, both issues have to be properly managed with the right medication during detox and rehab.

Cost of Fentanyl Addiction

In a year, you’ll likely spend around £18,000 maintaining your drug habit. It is an addiction that has cost many their jobs, finance, family, social life and loved ones.

When you’re ready for rehab, you can pay through your health insurance provider. If you don’t have health insurance, you can use your credit card, a bank loan, personal savings or even ask for help from loved ones. Low-income earners can seek funding from the NHS or enrol at a state-run rehab centre or free rehab facility.

The Effects of Fentanyl Abuse on the Brain and Body

One of the reasons why fentanyl is so addictive is because it rapidly binds to neurotransmitters in the brain that control pain and emotion. Like other opioids, fentanyl floods the brain with dopamine to release a rush of euphoria that makes you feel good after using the drug.

The brain is structured like a road and neurotransmitters are the drivers that transport chemical messages. They perform this function by landing on specific receptors in the brain and giving instructions to the receptors. Fentanyl lands on the Mu receptor and communicates a message to release chemicals that numb the perception of pain in the body.

In higher doses, it activates the Mu receptor site to stimulate the feeling of euphoria you experience when using fentanyl. As a drug that works on the central nervous system, it passes through the blood-brain barrier. The primary job of the blood-brain barrier is to keep some substances out of the brain itself. Hence, it acts as a defence mechanism in the brain. Sadly, the blood-brain barrier lets in fat-soluble compounds like fentanyl, which explains the fast-acting effect and potency of fentanyl on the brain and body.

Relationship Between Fentanyl and Other Substances

When people with drug misuse disorder mix fentanyl with other addictive substances, it binds to specific receptors in the brain to control pain and emotion. Mixing fentanyl with alcohol – even once – is a life-threatening situation. As alcohol interacts with opiates, it exacerbates the effects. Drinking alcohol and taking fentanyl increases the risk of severe physical and mental damage, which mostly leads to accidental drug overdose. Using these two drugs brings side effects such as respiratory distress, irregular heart rate, coma and death.

Fentanyl combined with Xanax is called ‘the super pill’. The tablets used to combine both drugs are thinner than legitimate Xanax, with a number stamped on them, although it might still be difficult for the ordinary eye to detect. Xanax stimulates chemicals in the brain that reduce symptoms of panic disorders and anxiety. Opioids combined with any form of benzodiazepines lead to a risk of drug overdose and a greater chance of abuse and addiction within a short time-frame.

Fentanyl Overdose Explained

Fentanyl is so powerful that even discarded patches contain significant amounts of opioid that substance abusers use to get high. The analogues or counterfeits produced in illicit labs are more potent than street heroin, with a higher health risk of respiratory depression.

If you take fentanyl when you don’t have a tolerance for opioids or you take the wrong dose when using for the first time, you could accidentally overdose. Signs of fentanyl overdose include slow heartbeat, shallow breathing, trouble talking or walking, unresponsiveness, cold and clammy skin, confusion and feeling faint.

To prevent an overdose, use the patch as instructed by your doctor. Many cases thought to be heroin overdoses are actually as a result of fentanyl. Children are particularly at risk for exposure, so keep drugs out of their reach.

What to Do If You Need Help Quitting

If you’re struggling with fentanyl addiction and need help quitting, the first thing to understand is that you’re not alone. Opioid addiction affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and across Europe. Around 69,000 die every year from opioid overdose. You can prevent joining those statistics by getting help. There are many websites that offer help and advice for dealing with drug addiction, and many will often refer you to your nearest rehab facility.

Fentanyl Withdrawal

When a drug user abuses fentanyl because of the euphoric high they experience, comprehensive addiction treatment is required to safely wean the addict off opioid painkillers. Addiction is a disease of the brain that encourages you to keep using, even when you know the consequences. People who abuse fentanyl develop dependence. Since fentanyl changes brain chemistry, you’ll experience physical and psychological symptoms when you try to quit.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include sweating, runny nose, backache, yawning, gastrointestinal pain, teary eyes, excessive sweating, muscle/joint pain, nausea, elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, increased respiration and insomnia.

Withdrawal symptoms level off within a week in most addicts, but last up to two weeks in long-term addicts.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Timeline

The first signs of withdrawal manifest within 12-30 hours after your last dose. Initial symptoms include muscle aches, irritability, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhoea. Fentanyl withdrawal peaks 24-48 hours after the initial signs and it’s at this stage that the risk of relapse is highest. Symptoms start to dissipate from the third to fifth day. However, you might still experience mild anxiety, shivering, depression, stomach cramps and chills.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

After detoxification, you’ll transition to therapy and rehab, where you’ll work with therapists and drug counsellors to understand the root cause of your addiction and learn useful skills that will help you maintain sobriety after rehab. One option for fentanyl rehab is inpatient addiction treatment, where you stay at a treatment facility as a resident. Alternatively, you could enrol as an outpatient if you’re a mild to moderate fentanyl user, who can’t take time off work to attend full rehab.

Choose the Fentanyl Rehab Programme That’s Right for You

When looking for a fentanyl rehab centre, the first thing to consider one that offers specialised treatment plans addressing your addiction needs. How much will it cost? Will you be able to pay for it? Where will the rehab facility be located? Would you prefer to go elsewhere or stay somewhere close to home, so your loved ones can visit? What about the credentials and expertise of medical professionals at the rehab centre?

Therapy for Fentanyl Addiction

Therapy is an integral part of addiction treatment that helps you understand your past actions and behaviour that led to drug usage. It also teaches future skills, behaviours and actions you can implement to stay sober after rehab. One therapy option for fentanyl addiction includes Individual therapy. Individual therapy helps you work through psychological addiction. You’ll discuss issues that led to drug abuse, learn to improve communication skills with others and substitute negative thoughts and emotions for positive behaviour that encourages sober living.

Possible Complications

There are several complications caused by addiction to fentanyl. These include:

  • Overdose when you take large doses
  • Diseases such as HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C from sharing needles
  • Road accidents or injuries from driving under the influence of fentanyl
  • Suicide ideation
  • Unconsciousness/coma
  • Problems with the authorities (breaking the law)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you or a loved one are seeking help for addiction treatment, it’s sometimes hard to determine the right time to speak with a medical professional. If you’ve tried to quit in the past and failed, or are experiencing physical health problems related to drug abuse (such as kidney or liver damage), you should consult a medical professional right away.

Fentanyl Recovery Plan

Once you’ve completed rehab, the big question lurking in the corner of your mind is: what now? You might be unsure of how to establish a schedule, where you should go, whether is it okay to talk to old friends. A recovery plan removes all uncertainty and sets daily goals and activities you can complete to achieve long-term sobriety.

Medical Detox for Fentanyl

Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl addiction are sometimes severe because of the potency of the drug. Therefore, it’s important you complete the detoxification process at a medically supervised detox centre, where professionals help to limit relapse situations and provide medications such as methadone and buprenorphine to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Fentanyl Addiction Statistics

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and sometimes likened to an elephant tranquilliser.
Illegal fentanyl is sold as powder, mixed with heroin or spiked on blotted paper. Drug deaths involving fentanyl have more than doubled between 2015-2016. In 2017, 60 people in the UK died from taking Fentanyl. The number of Brits using anabolic steroids is increasing daily. Fentanyl is a slow release substance with effects that last up to 72 hours in an individual.


What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a depressant drug that slows down communication between the brain and body. It is part of the opioid family and usually prescribed by doctors for severe to chronic pain, mostly suffered from nerve damage, major trauma, cancer, back injury or a bad accident.

How is Fentanyl Used?

A fentanyl patch is the most common way in which the drug is used. It is administered through a transdermal patch that is affixed to the skin. The patch slowly releases the drug into the bloodstream through the skin for a period of two to three days. Abusers use fentanyl for the warm, euphoric high they enjoy – a powerful high more potent than heroin and morphine.

What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

There are many forms of fentanyl, with the transdermal patches being the most popular. You simply attach it to your skin and the drug is slowly released into your bloodstream over a three-day period. The tablet form is called Lozenges (marketed as Actiq) and the intravenous injection is marketed as Sublimaze, which is faster-acting than pills or patches.

Is Fentanyl Addictive?

Because of the potency of the drug, there is a high risk of addiction from your first dose. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the more potent a drug, the faster you become addicted. It has a direct impact that overfloods the brain with dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure.

Who Abuses Fentanyl?

When you use fentanyl for its’ euphoric high or for any reasons outside medicinal use, this is considered abuse. Most people who abuse fentanyl start out as legitimate users, who required it for chronic pain, but soon increased the dosage after they built a tolerance for the drug.

How Can I Spot Fentanyl Addiction?

A few symptoms to look for when a loved one is addicted to fentanyl include dizziness, fainting, slurred speech, slowed heart rate, weakness, shaking, scratching, nausea and vomiting.

Is Fentanyl Harmful?

Fentanyl is a harmful, synthetic opioid, with a massive potential for abuse. It is only prescribed for patients who have an opioid tolerance. Therefore, recreational users who are not opioid tolerant – yet use this medicine – risk their health because of the danger of overdose.

Where Else Can I Find Help?

Addiction Helper will help find an addiction treatment centre that fits your unique needs and provides superb care and a range of therapy options to treat the disease of addiction.

How Is Fentanyl Abused from a Patch?

There is a gel inside fentanyl patches. Typically, people with opioid misuse disorder remove the gel and ingest a three-day supply of fentanyl at once. Alternatively, opioid abusers place multiple patches on their skin to increase the quantity of drug absorbed into their bloodstream.

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