Fentanyl Addiction, Adverse Effects, Withdrawal & Detox Options
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid drug prescribed for severe pain that is also manufactured and used illegally. In prescription form, fentanyl can be given as an injection, patch, or lozenge.1
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is found in many forms. Illicit, or illegal, forms of fentanyl include:1
- Blotter paper.
- Eye drops.
- Nasal spray.
- Pill or tablet.
By binding to specific receptors in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, and spinal cord, fentanyl diminishes the experience of pain. This action can also alter a person’s mood and create a sense of euphoria.2
Fentanyl is classified by the federal Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule II substance.3 This means that fentanyl is approved for medical use and has a high potential for misuse which can lead to the development of a substance use disorder.1,3
The Fentanyl Epidemic
Fentanyl is 50–100 times more potent than morphine. Even a very small amount of fentanyl can be lethal.1 The presence of fentanyl in overdose deaths in the United States has dramatically increased since 2013. Between the years 2013 and 2018, the rate of overdose deaths that involved synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, increased by 890%.4
Overdose deaths involving fentanyl and stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine have also increased. The addition of fentanyl to other drugs creates a particularly dangerous situation for anyone using illicit substances because they may be unknowingly using fentanyl and increasing their risk for adverse effects.4
Adverse Fentanyl Effects
Fentanyl use is associated with several adverse effects. Potential effects can include:1
- Difficulty breathing.
- Fatal overdose.
Chronic fentanyl use can also lead to fentanyl addiction, which is clinically diagnosed as opioid use disorder (OUD).1
Fentanyl is associated with a high risk of overdose due to its potency. An overdose may occur when a person takes too much fentanyl. This can occur when they knowingly take fentanyl, or when another substance they take is contaminated with fentanyl.2
Mixing fentanyl with other substances, particularly benzodiazepines, increases the risk of overdose and death by respiratory depression.2
Opioid overdose is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention; therefore, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of overdose. Overdose from fentanyl and other opioids may result in any of the following:2
- Pale and/or clammy skin
- Limp body
- Discolored, blue, or purple skin (especially lips and fingernails)
- Slow or stopped breathing
- Slow or stopped heartbeat
- Unable to be woken up, loss of consciousness
- Vomiting or making gurgling noises
- Pupils of the eye are constricted, looking like pinpoints
Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
Addiction is characterized by the continuous, compulsive use of a drug despite it causing health problems, relationship problems, and/or problems at work or school.1,5
Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose an opioid use disorder. However, knowing the criteria used to help determine a diagnosis can be useful to anyone concerned about themselves or someone they care about.
Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V), in order to be diagnosed with opioid use disorder, at least 2 of the following symptoms must be present within a 12-month period:6
- Opioids are often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use.
- A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the opioid, use the opioid, or recover from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use opioids.
- Recurrent opioid use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
- Continued opioid use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of opioids.
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of opioid use.
- Recurrent opioid use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
- Continued opioid use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
- Tolerance, meaning a person must use markedly increased amounts of opioids to achieve the desired effect, or there is a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of an opioid. This criterion does not apply for those taking opioids solely under appropriate medical supervision.
- Withdrawal, meaning a person experiences characteristic opioid withdrawal symptoms when they stop or drastically reduce their opioid use, or they continue to take opioids to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This criterion does not apply for those taking opioids solely under appropriate medical supervision.
Fentanyl use can lead to physiological dependence. When a person has developed a physiological dependence on fentanyl, they experience extremely uncomfortable fentanyl withdrawal symptoms when they stop or drastically reduce their use.1
The severity and duration of withdrawal depend on multiple factors, including:7
- How much fentanyl the person uses.
- How long they’ve used fentanyl.
- How frequently they use fentanyl.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 6-12 hours after the last dose, peak within 1-3 days, and subside over 5-7 days. Certain withdrawal symptoms may last for as long as a few weeks or months.6
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may include:1,7
- Abdominal cramps.
- Muscle and bone pain.
- Cold flashes with goose bumps.
- Uncontrollable leg movements.
- Severe cravings.
Fentanyl Addiction Treatment
Effective fentanyl addiction treatment is available. Treatment approaches can vary depending on the person and their specific needs and may include the use of medication, behavioral therapies, or a combination of the two.8 Outcomes tend to improve when medication and behavior therapies are combined to address fentanyl addiction.8
Fentanyl addiction treatment typically begins with medical detox. During a medically supervised fentanyl detox, medications are commonly administered to manage fentanyl withdrawal symptoms and reduce suffering.7
If you are looking for inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Mississippi, Oxford Treatment Center provides evidence-based medical detox and residential addiction treatment. Oxford also offers several outpatient levels of treatment for fentanyl addiction.
Oxford is located on 110 acres of beautiful, wooded land in Etta, MS, and incorporates proven behavioral therapies and medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD).
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