Fentanyl Addiction Treatment, Side Effects and Signs

America has struggled with an opioid epidemic for two decades.  It began with doctors overprescribing prescription painkillers. It then shifted to the heroin epidemic.  Today, there is an even more deadly opioid on the streets.  That drug is known as fentanyl and it is responsible for the current surge of fatal opioid-related overdoses. 

One of the dangers of buying illicit drugs is that the substances often contain unexpected or undisclosed ingredients. For instance, street dealers often lace cocaine, heroin, and meth with fentanyl because it is cheaper.  Unsuspecting buyers are the ones who suffer from this deceitful practice.  Studies show that about 73% of people who tested positive for fentanyl did not realize they had taken the drug.  As a result, fentanyl is responsible for about one-half of more than 700,000 drug overdose deaths between 1999 and today.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid depressant that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine.  As a prescription drug, fentanyl is used to treat severe pain following surgery or chronic pain suffered by cancer patients.  It is a derivative of the opium poppy and has similar effects related to other drugs derived from the plant.  

Prescription names for fentanyl include Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze.  Fentanyl can be prescribed in the form of injections, patches, nasal sprays, or lozenges.

As a CSA Schedule II controlled drug, fentanyl has a high potential for abuse and can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.  Because fentanyl is a man-made substance, illicit production has spread to makeshift labs all across the nation.  However, according to the DEA, illicitly produced fentanyl comes primarily from Mexico.

Commons street names for fentanyl include the following:

  • China Girl
  • China Town
  • Dance Fever
  • Goodfellas
  • Great Bear
  • He-Man
  • Poison

Clandestinely produced fentanyl is usually sold in powder or tablet form or is combined with other drugs.  People who intentionally use fentanyl non-medically often prefer to inject the drug.  This method produces euphoria right away, but the effects diminish soon, and physical dependence builds quickly.  Other non-medical uses include snorting, smoking, or oral ingestion.  Some users cut up the patches and place the bits under their tongue or in the cheek cavity.

Risks and Side Effects of Fentanyl

Like other opioid analgesics, fentanyl produces effects of relaxation, pain relief, sedation, and euphoria.  When used medically, fentanyl is an effective method for pain management.  But, even when used according to directions, it can cause tolerance or dependency.  Fentanyl is so potent that people can get high simply by handling the substance.  Emergency responders use protective gear when in situations where they may be exposed to the drug.  

Of all the drugs a person should choose to avoid, fentanyl is at the top of the list.  Here are some of the risks and side effects of fentanyl that everyone should learn:

Physical side effects:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Drowsiness, fatigue
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chills or sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nervousness
  • Cough, dry mouth

Severe physical effects can include:

  • Low or increased blood pressure
  • Bradycardia (slow heartbeat)
  • Respiratory depression
  • Anxiety, restlessness
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Lightheadedness, fainting
  • Confusion
  • Muscle jerking or twitching
  • Reduced responsiveness to stimuli
  • Convulsions

Warning signs of fentanyl overdose are:

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Depression
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Back pain
  • Loss of strength
  • Diarrhea

The powerful effects of fentanyl are often underestimated, resulting in thousands of addictions and overdoses.  Evidence of the prevalence of fentanyl abuse in major cities can be seen in some areas that are overcome by crime, filth, and people lying on the sidewalk because they are high on fentanyl or other drugs.   The only way to end the devastation and save lives is to help people get the addiction treatment they need.  

Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl’s addictive nature makes it easy to develop a tolerance or addiction to the drug.  Many people who legally use the drug for pain management often become addicted.  For others, a genetic predisposition to addiction makes them more susceptible to fentanyl addiction.  Also,  some individuals with mental health disorders often use fentanyl to self-medicate the symptoms of their illness.  

When someone misuses or abuses fentanyl for long periods, dopamine receptors in the brain become dysfunctional.  This effect results in an inability to feel pleasure naturally (dysphoria).   As a result, more of the drug is needed just to feel “normal.”

The signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse are similar to those of opioid use disorder (OUD).  

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these 11 symptoms indicate OUD:

  1. Uses more fentanyl than intended for a longer length of time.
  2. Can’t stop using the drug even if they want to.
  3. Spends most of their time and money to use fentanyl, recover from it, and obtain more.
  4. Experiences intense cravings for the drug.
  5. Failure to meet responsibilities at home, work, or school.
  6. Continues to use the drug despite negative consequences that have occurred.
  7. Using fentanyl even though they are aware of the risks and dangers.
  8. Continuing to use the drug despite psychological or physical side effects.
  9. Needs more fentanyl to get the desired effect.
  10. Loses interest in social or recreational activities they once enjoyed.
  11. Experiences withdrawal symptoms if the drug is unavailable.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

When fentanyl is withheld, withdrawal symptoms appear within a few hours after the last dose.  Depending on the duration of the addiction and intensity of use, the withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.  A person’s physical and mental health also play a role in the level of withdrawal symptoms experienced.  

For these reasons, quitting cold turkey is not recommended.  Studies show that most fentanyl withdrawal deaths occurred when the person was alone at the time.  So, quitting fentanyl safely and effectively requires medical supervision.

Addiction specialists agree that professional detox is the safest option for quitting fentanyl.

Common fentanyl withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

Physical withdrawal symptoms:

  • Severe cravings for the drug
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps
  • Sweating or chills
  • Rapid breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate

Psychological withdrawal symptoms:

  • Dreams of relapse
  • Ignoring reality (pink cloud syndrome)
  • Negative feelings
  • Inability to experience pleasure

These withdrawal symptoms can be intense enough to force a person to seek more of the drug to ease their discomfort.  But, with medical supervision, the withdrawal symptoms are monitored by skilled professionals to ensure the safety and comfort of the patient.

During fentanyl detox, medications may be administered to help relieve the withdrawal symptoms.  The medications commonly used are buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.  These medications help reduce cravings and other symptoms by blocking opioid receptors in the brain.  Holistic methods for fentanyl detox are also available.  The holistic approach relies on natural remedies to help control withdrawal symptoms.  

Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction at Design for Change Recovery

Many people fail to get addiction treatment because they fear detox and withdrawal symptoms.  At Design for Change Recovery, our certified medical staff will ease your fears and ensure you get the high level of care you deserve during detox and rehab.  When you complete our program and step back out in the real world, our aftercare program will help you stay on track.

We offer a comprehensive program of activities, classes, and counseling to address all aspects of the addiction to make staying sober easier.  Contact us at our Lancaster, CA facility today to learn more about our program.  Our primary purpose is to help you live the healthy, drug-free life you desire.  So, call now to open up the door to a better future for yourself and your loved ones.


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