Fentanyl Effects: Abuse, Withdrawal, and Overdose – Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl was developed in 1960, intended for the treatment of severe pain. It works by obstructing pain receptors in the brain and increasing the production of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes it highly addictive.
In recent years, drug dealers have increasingly been using fentanyl as a means to increase the potency of their drugs and reduce costs by adding it to other drugs such as heroin. The presence of fentanyl often occurs unbeknownst to the user, and significantly increases the risk of a life-threatening overdose.
How Is Fentanyl Used and Abused?
Fentanyl that is legally prescribed is available as a transdermal patch, nasal spray, lozenge, or in injectable form. It is a fast-acting substance that produces painkilling effects in just minutes, and the effects of a dosage will last for up to two hours. In addition to dramatic pain reduction, it induces deep relaxation and euphoria, effects that have made it popular among recreational drug users.
On the illegal drug market, fentanyl and its analogues are often sold as powders or tablets and can be smoked, snorted, or injected. Fentanyl in its illicit forms is often even more potent than legally-prescribed versions, and it is often combined with heroin, meth, or cocaine to induce more intense effects.
Although misuse/abuse of prescribed fentanyl is a problem, it is most often the illegal forms of the drug that are responsible for drug overdose deaths. When used recreationally or compulsively as a result of dependency, the risk of a fentanyl overdose increases dramatically.
Understanding Fentanyl Effects
Signs and Symptoms
The signs of fentanyl abuse will vary from between individuals, but may include any of the following:
- Psychomotor retardation
- Constricted pupils
- Drowsiness or insomnia
- Psychomotor agitation
- Slurred speech
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Neglect of daily responsibilities
- Forging prescriptions
- Poor performance/frequent absenteeism at work or school
- Continuing to abuse fentanyl despite adverse consequences
- Visiting different doctors to receive multiple prescriptions
- Spending too much time obtaining, using, and recovering from use
Cognitive and Psychosocial Symptoms
- Euphoria followed by apathy
- Impaired judgment
- Impaired memory
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Attention and concentration difficulties
- Suicidal ideation
The fentanyl withdrawal timeline varies between individuals, but in general, symptoms begin in as little as 12-24 hours after the last dose. Physical withdrawal symptoms will peak at around 48 hours and may persist for up to a week. While physical symptoms usually subside within a week, emotional symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, can last much longer.
What are the physical symptoms of withdrawal?
- Sweating and chills
- Aches, pains, and spasms
- Runny nose and teary eyes
- Stomach pain, and upset
- Accelerated heart rate
- Mood swings
- Anxiety or depression
- Memory or cognition problems
- Intense drug cravings
When fentanyl is consumed in excess, symptoms may become severe and place the user at risk of serious complications or death. A fentanyl overdose is a life-threatening condition. As soon as the signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose are witnessed emergency medical help should be contacted immediately.
The symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include the following:
- Miosis (pinpoint pupils)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Muscle weakness
- Confusion and disorientation
- Dizziness and fainting
- Bluish lips and fingernails
- No response to stimuli
- Extreme drowsiness
- Very low blood pressure
- Very slow heart rate
- Slowed or labored breathing
- Respiratory depression
If multiple symptoms of overdose manifest, or if the individual loses consciousness and remains nonresponsive, an overdose is probable, and 911 should be called immediately.
Lethal overdoses of fentanyl are usually the result of respiratory distress. Nonetheless, the drug’s ability to severely depress central nervous system activity can produce other dangerous or fatal side effects, including brain damage, cardiac arrest, or organ failure.
To counteract an opioid overdose, paramedics or other first responders typically inject a drug called naloxone. This drug can halt and reverse the harmful effects of an overdose by attaching to and blocking the action of fentanyl at opioid receptors.
It may take multiple doses of naloxone to reverse a fentanyl overdose completely, and if the drug is administered after the overdose has advanced beyond a certain point, it may be ineffective.
Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
Recovery in Tune offers outpatient treatment, which may include the following services:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual and group therapy
- Individual and family counseling
- Holistic practices, such as yoga and art therapy
- 12-step meetings
We employ caring addiction specialists who provide clients with the tools and support they need to recover and experience long-term wellness and sobriety.
If you or your loved one is suffering from an addiction to fentanyl, please contact us as soon as possible!
Related: What Are Opiates and Why Are They So Addictive?