Fentanyl Addiction: Symptoms and Treatment

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What is fentanyl? 

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, that is typically used for severe pain treatment and management for patients who are physically tolerant to other opioids. 

In recent years, overdoses resulting in death from using fentanyl have increased rapidly and dramatically. In 2015, fentanyl related deaths only made up 1% of all overdoses in the county, compared to 40% in 2020. 

In prescription form, fentanyl is known by brand names such as Duragesic®, Sublimaze® and Actiq®. In its prescribed form, it comes in transdermal patches and lozenges.

However, at this point in time, fentanyl is frequently manufactured illegally and sold as an illicit drug known for its heroin-like effects. Other than ‘fentanyl,’ the illegal substance is also known as China White, China Girl, Jackpot, and Apache. It typically comes in the form of a powder, but is also sold on blotter paper and in pill form. 

Fentanyl side effects

Like other opioids, fentanyl binds to opioid receptors, which are located in the area of the brain that controls emotions and pain. Fentanyl side effects include: 

  • Relaxation
  • Temporary feelings of euphoria
  • A short-term, intense high 
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Sedation
  • Trouble breathing
  • Unconsciousness 

 

Risks of fentanyl use 

The ultimate risk of fentanyl use is death from an overdose. Due to the potency of fentanyl, overdose is unfortunately an increasingly common occurrence. In recent years, as depicted in the graph from the Center for Disease Control included below, death from fentanyl, and other synthetic opioid overdoses, has skyrocketed. These synthetic narcotics, mainly fentanyl, are now the leading group of drugs contributing to overdose deaths. 

 

An individual may overdose on fentanyl without even being aware of its presence. This is because it is not uncommon for other drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, MDMA, or methamphetamines, to be laced with fentanyl. 

 

Fentanyl vs Morphine: How do they differ? 

Whereas all fentanyl is synthetic, morphine is a naturally occurring substance derived from the opium poppy plant. Both are used to alleviate severe pain, though fentanyl is reserved for more extreme cases and tolerance levels. Both morphine and prescription-form fentanyl are classified as Schedule II substances, meaning the federal government has determined there to be a high potential for abuse, but there are also accepted medical uses, so they can be prescribed to patients. These are also referred to as “controlled substances.” As mentioned earlier, their most significant difference is their potency and strength. Fentanyl is a whopping 80-100 times stronger than morphine. 

 

Fentanyl vs Heroin: How do they differ? 

Unlike fentanyl’s classification as a Schedule II substance, heroin is classified as a Schedule I substance. Schedule I substances are determined to be illegal drugs with no accepted medical use. Because of differences in their chemical composition, fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. This may be more succinctly reflected in the image below, showing the amount of heroin and fentanyl that are considered a lethal dose.

Heroin and fentanyl are virtually identical in appearance, but fentanyl is much less expensive. Heroin is often mixed with fentanyl, creating a more powerful drug than an individual may realize, which can quickly lead to an overdose. 

What happens when fentanyl is combined with other drugs? 

Fentantyl is already an extraordinarily powerful and dangerous drug on its own, and combining it with other drugs only increases the risk of overdose exponentially. As stated before, fentanyl is often mixed into heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamines to stretch them, resulting in a dangerous and sometimes deadly combination. 

What are fentanyl abuse and addiction symptoms? 

When an individual is abusing or addicted to fentanyl, common symptoms that may appear include: 

  • Intense cravings and urges to use fentanyl
  • Desire to stop using fentanyl, but unable to do so
  • Increased tolerance to fentanyl, requiring larger doses for effect
  • Great amounts of time and energy spent seeking, using, and recovering from fentanyl use 
  • Inability to complete daily commitments and responsibilities due to fentanyl use 
  • Fentanyl use continues despite danger, negative consequences, or threats to health 
  • Withdrawal symptoms appear when fentanyl use is stopped or decreased 

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms 

When an individual who regularly uses fentanyl suddenly stops taking it, withdrawal symptoms are likely to appear. This is because the brain and body adapted to frequent presence of the drug and its effects, and its removal triggers chemical imbalances that affect the whole body. 

Withdrawal symptoms can include: 

  • Sweating or chills 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Yawning
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Cravings
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 
  • Shakes or tremors
  • Confusion or disorientation

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

It is entirely possible to overcome fentanyl addiction. Thousands of individuals have done so, with appropriate treatment, support, and commitment to recovery. For opioid-related addiction, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is often used, as it assists in a smoother recovery process by utilizing medications such as methadone and Suboxone to help keep withdrawal symptoms to a minimum. 

A well-rounded program offers much more than MAT, however. Comprehensive addiction treatment addresses not only the physical effects of addiction, but the emotional and psychological as well.

How Oasis Recovery helps individuals recover from fentanyl addiction 

Oasis Recovery Center, located in the heart of Asheville, North Carolina, has helped hundreds of individuals reclaim their lives from the grips of addiction. 

Our comprehensive addiction treatment programs incorporate everything from medication-assisted treatment to psychotherapy with options such as EMDR to group activities and processing, adventure therapy, equine therapy, art therapy, and a variety of mindfulness-based holistic healing modalities including acupuncture, qi gong, yoga, meditation, and more. Clients at Oasis are supported through every step of their healing journey with our unique, individualized, impactful recovery programs. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with fentanyl addiction or addiction to other substances, Oasis Recovery is here to help. Reach out to us today at (828) 330-9497  or get in touch through our online contact form for more information about addiction treatment and recovery at Oasis.