What is Fentanyl? Side Effects, Overdose, Withdrawal, & Addiction Treatment
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a Schedule II controlled substance , and it is medically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Duragesic, Actiq, and Sublimaze. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) , fentanyl may be habit-forming. As a result, taking certain medications with fentanyl may increase the risk of developing severe or life-threatening breathing problems, sedation, or coma.
The most recent fentanyl overdose and death cases in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often blended with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination drug —with or without the user’s knowledge—to increase its euphoric effects. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , rates of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (carfentanil) increased by over 16% from 2018 to 2019. More than 36,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, in 2019.
“How long does fentanyl stay in your system? ” is a question that many misusers of the drug may have. Since fentanyl can be administered in so many different ways, the administration method determines how long the effects last and how long it may stay in your system. When someone who suffers from an addiction to this drug suddenly stops using it, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can occur. It is important to remember that recovery from fentanyl addiction takes much more than simply ending drug use. The underlying causes of the addiction and the mental illness from the addiction itself must be addressed for the best chances of a successful fentanyl addiction treatment and recovery.
What is Fentanyl Used for?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges and can be diverted for misuse and abuse in the United States.
Fentanyl works by acting on the brain’s opioid receptors to alter how the brain experiences pain and reacts to it. Additionally, fentanyl is used specifically for opioid-tolerant people, meaning they need relief for serious pain but have developed a tolerance to other opioids, rendering them ineffective.
Fentanyl is not intended to be used for pain that’s short-term and will go away in a few days or on an as-needed basis. Some studies warn against using fentanyl to treat surgical pain, but it is still sometimes used for such pain management. When fentanyl is used for surgical applications, it’s normally part of the anesthesia administered to patients to manage pain following the surgery.
Since there is a high likelihood of abuse and dependence with fentanyl when it’s needed, it’s used under medical supervision. Patients who are prescribed fentanyl are given a set of instructions, which include not drinking alcohol when taking it and checking with a pharmacist before taking any other over-the-counter or prescription medicines, vitamins or supplements.
What is Fentanyl Prescribed for?
The only individuals who can prescribe fentanyl patches and other forms of fentanyl are doctors, and it’s advised that it’s only prescribed by doctors with specific experience cancer treatment. In addition to warnings about who is prescribed fentanyl, who can prescribe fentanyl patches and other forms of the drug, and also what fentanyl is prescribed for, there are also strict guidelines for how fentanyl should be prescribed.
A doctor should start the patient with a low fentanyl dose and gradually move upward until a dose is identified that relieves the patient’s pain. Fentanyl isn’t meant to be used more than four times a day, and patients are warned not to use a larger dose than what they’re prescribed or to stop taking it without approval from a doctor.
Also, when this drug is prescribed, doctors should ask about the patient’s family or personal history of the use of alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs, as well as any mental problems including depression or hallucinations.
It’s also not meant to be prescribed for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, who have breathing problems, or kidney or liver disease. If it is prescribed to any members of these groups, prescribers must use extreme caution. To sum up, what is fentanyl prescribed for, it’s for people with severe pain, most often from cancer, who have not adequately responded to other medications such as morphine.
Fentanyl Side Effects
Fentanyl is fast-acting but somewhat short-lived when compared to other drugs. It can take effect within minutes and can last as short as a half-hour or as long as one-and-a-half hours. It is measured in micrograms (mcg) because of its potency and risk for fentanyl overdose, even in very small amounts. One dosage in a hospital setting is 5 to 20 mcg, with an average of 10 mcg.
Short-Term Fentanyl Side Effects
Not every person will experience the same side effects the same way. Some of the common short-term negative effects of fentanyl are:
- Dry mouth
- Increased thirst
- Chest pain
- Pale skin
- Loss of appetite
- Causea or vomiting
- Unusual tiredness or weakness
- Difficulty urinating
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory depression
Long-Term Fentanyl Physical Side Effects
Long-term use of fentanyl can lead to heart or respiratory problems. Further, people who inject fentanyl and share needles have an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or other infectious diseases.
There are other potential side effects, but these are less common. Rare side effects from fentanyl include:
- Reduced urine output
- Feeling cold
- Headache or pain in the head
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Low blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Dyskinesia, or trouble with voluntary movement
- Feeling like the room is spinning
- Stinging skin
- Throat irritation
- Kidney damage
- Eczema or other skin disorder
- Bloating or swelling of the face or extremities
Anyone who uses drugs that may contain fentanyl, even occasionally, is at risk of a fentanyl overdose. A fentanyl overdose 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 can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can lead to a coma and permanent brain damage, and even death.
Many drug dealers mix the cheaper fentanyl with other drugs like heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamine to increase their profits, making it often difficult to know which drug is causing the overdose. Naloxone is a medicine that can treat a fentanyl overdose when given right away. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of opioid drugs. But fentanyl is more potent than other opioid drugs like morphine and might require multiple doses of naloxone.
Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms
Fentanyl can have harmful cross-reactions with other sedatives. This can be seen in Klonopin detox symptoms (clonazepam), Xanax addiction (alprazolam), Ativan addiction (lorazepam), and alcohol abuse. The combination of these drugs will intensify the depressing effects on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The following are symptoms of fentanyl overdose:
- Body is limp
- Awake, without the ability to speak
- Changes in skin color (darker-skinned people look grayish or ashen and lighter-skinned people look bluish purple)
- Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
- Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all
- Making a snore-like gurgling noise or “death rattle,” choking sounds
- Loss of consciousness
- Non-responsive to outside stimulus
- Very slow, shallow, erratic, or stopped breathing
- Face is pale or clammy
Although fentanyl is used and prescribed in medical settings, it is also diverted for street use. When purchased on the streets, fentanyl may be called “china girl,” “china white,” “china town,” or “apache.” The effects of fentanyl are similar to those of other opioids, however, they are far more intense. It goes without saying that it is difficult to quit Fentanyl without proper help.
Fentanyl produces euphoric effects, which is what pushes people to start abusing the drug in the first place. It makes the user feel good. That’s why many people take it recreationally, not knowing the risks. And if a person is already addicted, attempting to quit without proper treatment will result in fentanyl withdrawal.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
When someone who suffers from an addiction to fentanyl suddenly stops using, withdrawal symptoms can occur. These can include:
- Fentanyl cravings
- Goose bumps
- Runny nose
- Increased tearing
- Hot and cold flashes
- Excessive yawning
- Muscles aches
- Joint pain
- Stomach cramps
Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
On average, it takes seven to 10 days for the worst fentanyl withdrawal symptoms to pass. These are called post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Cravings for Fentanyl can last for years after the last dose, but users can relapse without understanding the emotional and physical stressors.
- The trouble with cognitive tasks
- Panic or anxiety
- Depressed moved
- Difficulty maintaining social relationships
- Increased sensitivity to stress
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- Craving fentanyl
- Sleep pattern disturbances
- Apathy or pessimism
Find Treatment for Meth Addiction
First and foremost, if you think that a loved one is abusing fentanyl, you should first research the drug and addiction associated with it so that you can better understand what your loved one needs. Next, you must plan an intervention to provide your loved one with options as to battle their addiction in a safe and supportive environment. During this intervention, make sure that you offer compassion and support instead of judgment. Lastly, offer your support throughout the entire treatment process.
Clearing fentanyl from the body and overcoming fentanyl withdrawal symptoms is the goal of detox, which is the first step of treatment for fentanyl addiction. Here at We Level Up NJ, a comprehensive team prescribing medications as part of our medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, it aims to alleviate your withdrawal pains while monitoring your health 24 hours during the detox. We prioritize your safety and comfort because this is a fragile and challenging time for you.
Once detox is complete, a new doorway in treatment opens up, which is referred to as an inpatient drug rehab or residential level of care. Our residential care program slowly and effectively introduces the individual into an atmosphere of therapeutic growth, marked by master’s level therapists, clinicians, group counselors, psychiatrists, and a community of like-minded individuals with the same aim: to attain sobriety and live a great life.
Some of the many modalities applied and practiced within our residential treatment facility are:
Our treatment tailors the program to the individual and the individual to the program of recovery. We begin by assessing our client’s history of mental health, drugs, and substance abuse-related past. The needs of each individual are specific and personalized because we aim to provide comprehensive support for mental health, addiction, and dual diagnosis treatment. Our supportive environment is designed accordingly to give clients 24-hour care for sobriety. Most importantly, we hope to have our clients live comfortably within the facility during this crucial and fragile time.
Now that you’ve answered the question “what is fentanyl?” it is crucial to seek help avoid overdose. At We Level Up NJ, we prioritize removing the stigma and temptations for relapse and applying an air of recovery into every component of the treatment timeline. , We find that when clients are living in a supportive community, especially during their early recovery process, they can truly focus on what matters most: their recovery.