Fentanyl is a prescription opioid that is used to treat individuals who experience severe pain, such as patients with terminal cancer. Illicit formulations, or analogs, of fentanyl have been smuggled into the U.S., gaining widespread street distribution. Because fentanyl is at least fifty times more potent than morphine, the drug has been implicated in the majority of recent overdose deaths.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic and powerful opioid released in 1968. It is sold under the brands Sublimaze, Actiq, Duragesic and Abstral. As with all opioids, fentanyl binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and blocks pain signals, providing highly effective pain relief. Fentanyl also produces feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
When used recreationally, fentanyl use can prove deadly. The fentanyl product on the street is produced in clandestine labs where potency cannot be closely regulated. As a result, fentanyl-contaminated counterfeit pills, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine have led to an unprecedented number of overdose deaths.
Recreational use of fentanyl
While it’s true that many fentanyl overdose fatalities are accidental because the individual had no knowledge that the substance they had consumed contained it, there are instances where fentanyl is intentionally misused. A common method is through fentanyl patch misuse. Some of the ways the fentanyl patch is used for recreational purposes include:
- Applying multiple patches: Fentanyl patch use is strictly supervised by a physician, who has their patients apply one patch at a time. An individual misusing the patch may attempt to enhance the effects by placing several patches at once.
- Smoking fentanyl: The gel inside the patch is scraped out and heated creating a vapor that is subsequently inhaled.
- Chewing the patch: An individual may chew on the fentanyl patch, which allows the drug to be absorbed through the mucous membranes inside the mouth.
- Injecting fentanyl: The gel is removed from the patch, heated until melted, diluted with water and injected.
- Drinking fentanyl: The patches are steeped in boiling water like tea and then consumed like a beverage.
What are the short-term effects of fentanyl?
Whether the individual is prescribed fentanyl or is using the drug recreationally, they may experience the following short-term side effects:
- Drowsiness or mild sedation
- Constricted pupils
- Nausea and vomiting
- Urinary retention
- Slowed breathing
- Decreased heart rate
- Dry mouth
The following are sudden-onset fentanyl side effects that may signal to a life-threatening reaction:
- Severe muscle stiffness
- Heart arrhythmia
What are the long-term effects of fentanyl?
There are potential long-term adverse effects caused by fentanyl that can include:
- Dependency or addiction
- Weight loss
- Digestive tract issues
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Prolonged headaches
What are the signs of fentanyl overdose?
Fentanyl is so potent that even a small amount of the substance can cause respiratory distress or failure. In the event of a fentanyl overdose, immediate emergency intervention with naloxone (sold as Narcan) is required. First responders or family members trained in administering naloxone are able to reverse the potentially fatal effects.
Signs of fentanyl overdose include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Mental confusion
- Clammy skin
- Pinpoint pupils
- Blue-tinged skin
- Shallow breathing
Treatments for opioid use disorder
As with any opioid use disorder, fentanyl use disorder is treatable. A comprehensive treatment program will include multiple therapeutic interventions, usually within an inpatient facility. They include withdrawal symptom management, psychotherapy, peer group therapy sessions, medication support, 12-step program activities, holistic activities and restoring health and wellness through nutrition and exercise. If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl or any opioid, reach out today for compassionate support and guidance.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.