Fentanyl is an opioid and prescription painkiller that is available as a pill, powder, tablet, spray, or sublingual (under the tongue) film. Time-release formulas of fentanyl are found as gel patches or lollipops, and hospitals sometimes use injectable forms. Illicit street versions of fentanyl are usually in powder form.
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Clinically, it is used to relieve severe pain, such as during or following surgery or that which is related to cancer treatment, palliative care, and breakthrough pain.
Common brand names and forms for fentanyl include, but are not limited to, the following:
Actiq—Actiq is a lozenge on a plastic stick placed under the tongue similar to a lollipop. It is used by patients already taking pain-relieving medications.
Duragesic—Duragesic is a transdermal patch prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Its effects can last for up to three days.
Sublimaze—Sublimaze is usually administered in hospitals, and sometimes alongside anesthetics, it is an injectable form of fentanyl. It is used to relieve pain before, during, and after surgeries.
Subsys—Subsys is a sublingual spray administered under the tongue in order to deliver instant pain relief. Its main purpose is to treat breakthrough pain related to cancer.
Fentanyl Abuse and Effects
Like other opioids, fentanyl works by attaching to receptors in the brain and increasing the production of the feel-good chemical dopamine. For this reason, people who regularly use fentanyl are at high risk for addiction, regardless of whether it is taken according to a prescription or illicitly.
Those who use fentanyl in excess of prescription doses or an illicit form will experience intense euphoria and feelings of relaxation similar to those induced by heroin.
Common symptoms of fentanyl abuse include the following:
- Slowed breathing
- Clammy skin
- Blurred vision
Fentanyl abuse is particularly hazardous to those without a high tolerance to opioids. The drug risk of overdose is further increased when a person without tolerance abuses it.
Combining fentanyl with illicit drugs, such as heroin, meth, or cocaine, can compound the substance’s harmful effects. Regardless of whether it is used as prescribed or abused for recreational purposes, fentanyl is a potentially deadly drug.
The abuse of fentanyl can profoundly depress a person’s respiratory system, resulting in a lethal overdose. A fentanyl overdose is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical intervention.
An individual that has been exposed to fentanyl may experience the following symptoms:
- Respiratory failure
- Nervous system depression
- Loss of consciousness
If you or someone you know are experiencing the above symptoms related to fentanyl use, call 911 immediately. First responders can administer naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioids and can, therefore, save a life.
What Does Fentanyl Addiction Look Like?
Signs of addiction include the following:
- Tolerance, hallmarked by the need to use increasing amounts to achieve the desired effect
- Dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of use
- Using to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Obsession with obtaining and using fentanyl
- Being unable to quit despite the desire to do so
- Neglect of social activities in place of using fentanyl
- Using fentanyl despite incurring adverse effects
- Significant physical and psychological health problems
- Strained interpersonal relationships
- Poor performance academically or professionally
- Financial issues
- Arrest and incarceration
- Social withdrawal
- An overwhelming sense of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts
Many people who become dependent on opioids, such as fentanyl, have a genetic predisposition to addiction. Others are at risk due to severe health conditions. Some start using fentanyl to treat pain and end up abusing it and becoming addicted. Also, health problems are not limited to those which are physical. If a person has a mental health disorder, he or she is more likely to engage in substance abuse as a means of self-medicating.
Dependence is partially a psychological condition but is fundamentally a physical one. Long-term fentanyl use or abuse can cause brain dysfunction. When opioids are abused for a prolonged period, dopamine receptors in the brain stop operating effectively without the presence of opioids.
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction, regardless of the drug abused, is an extremely dangerous condition that requires professional treatment. Individuals who are dependent on opioids need to undergo a medical detox followed immediately by a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment program.
Recovery in Tune offers treatment for addiction in both outpatient and intensive outpatient formats. We employ caring, highly-skilled staff who are committed to ensuring that each client receives all of the tools and support they desperately need to experience a full recovery.
If you or someone you love is ready to stop the cycle of addiction, contact us today and find out how we can help!