Fentanyl and morphine are both opioid drugs that attach to specific brain receptors, and in doing so, mitigate pain sensations induces feelings of pleasure and reward. Both are potent, fast-acting, and can cause severe nervous symptom depression in just one dose.
Fentanyl vs. Morphine: The Basics
Morphine is an alkaloid found naturally in the seed of the opium poppy. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) has classified morphine as a Schedule II controlled substance, which indicates it does some legitimate medical purpose. It can be taken orally but can also be smoked or injected when abused.
Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid that produces effects comparable to both morphine and heroin. However, it is also estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
Fentanyl, which was intended to be an extremely effective painkiller, was first synthesized in 1960. It is still commonly used in clinical environments to treat chronic or severe pain related to surgery or injuries among those who do not respond well to conventional opioids. And like morphine, fentanyl does have some accepted medical purpose and is thereby scheduled by the DEA as a Schedule II substance.
Fentanyl is infrequently diverted from legitimate forms for abuse. Nonetheless, it is most often found on the black market as an illicitly manufactured substance produced in clandestine laboratories, particularly in China. Fentanyl is cheaper and easier to obtain than many prescription opioids in the U.S. and is often used as an adulterant in other drugs.
Fentanyl exposure is extraordinarily dangerous, as it can be readily absorbed through the skin, and as little as .25 mg can be deadly. Prescription fentanyl can be found in the form of lozenges, sublingual tablets, oral and nasal sprays, transdermal patches, and as an injectable.
Also, illicitly-obtained fentanyl can be made into pills that resemble other prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, or can be used in powder form. Fentanyl abuse can rapidly lead to permanent damage to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, as well as brain damage and cognitive deficits. Injecting either of these drugs also increases the risk of collapsed veins, track marks, skin infection, and the contraction of blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS.
Overdose and Side Effects
Overdose deaths related to the use of opiates such as morphine, fentanyl, and heroin have been increasing steadily every year since the 21st century.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that opioid-involved overdose fatalities increased from 21,088 to 47,600 between 2010 and 2017 and remained steady in 2018 with an estimated 46,802 deaths. This trend was followed by a notable increase in 2019 to 49,860 deaths.
Many of these fatalities are believed to be because individuals exposed to fentanyl are frequently unaware of its presence in their ingesting substance. Again, it’s often substituted (or combined with) heroin or other drugs to boost dealer profits. However, fentanyl is much more potent than morphine and heroin. It can rapidly lead to a toxic accumulation of chemicals, leading to overdose faster and in smaller doses.
An opioid overdose can be life-threatening when the user’s breathing becomes dangerous slow, and depressed. Heart rate is also decreased, body temperature lowered, and affected individuals may become tired, lethargic, and confused, or fall unconscious, unable to be awakened.
As noted, an overdose on morphine, heroin, or fentanyl has a high potential leading to death. Fortunately, overdoses related to either substance can be reversed with timely administration of the opioid antagonist Narcan (naloxone). Because fentanyl is more potent in lower doses than morphine or heroin, it may take multiple doses of naloxone to counteract its effects.
Dependence, Tolerance, and Addiction
Both morphine and fentanyl have a high potential for abuse and addiction. They both produce intense euphoric feelings, and dependence can develop rapidly. When an individual’s brain has become accustomed to the presence of an opioid, it will begin to require regular exposure to the drug to function correctly.
For those persons dependent on one or more of these drugs, uncomfortable and sometimes painful withdrawal symptoms will manifest when the drug’s effects wear off. These effects may include anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, and flu-like symptoms. For many, it may be preferable to keep using the drug than to deal with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This behavior can rapidly result in an inability to control drug use.
Over time, regular drug use can lead to the development of tolerance, a condition in which the person who uses it requires ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Addiction is typically defined as compulsive drug-seeking behavior that occurs regardless of the negative effects that occur provoked by altered brain chemistry related to drug use.
Morpine vs. Fentanyl Comparison
- An opiate
- Schedule II drug with some legitimate medical use
- Highly addictive
- Manufactured in pill or liquid form
- Sometimes smoked or injected when abused
- Relatively fast-acting and produces and can produce a rush
- Potential for overdose, hallmarked by life-threatening central nervous system depression
- Typically requires medical detox and 24/7 clinical supervision to safely eliminate the drug from a person’s system, as well as prevent withdrawal symptoms and relapse
- Often requires integrated, individualized treatment to maintain long-lasting recovery
- Fully synthetic opioid
- Available only by prescription in several forms as a powerful painkiller and also manufactured illicitly
- Manufactured as a tablet, lozenge, patch, powder, or injectable liquid
- Ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected when abused
- Rapid-acting and produces a relatively short but intense rush
- Can be fatal in microgram doses and be absorbed through the skin by casual contact
- Often requires medically-performed detox to safely eliminate the drug from the body, relieve withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse
- Often requires professional, individualized treatment to maintain long-lasting recovery
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
Fentanyl, morphine, and heroin are extremely dangerous and potent opioids, and comprehensive substance abuse programs are usually needed to address addiction to these substances. Professional detox and treatment programs are often invaluable in helping individuals manage cravings, withdrawal symptoms and curb the problematic behaviors associated with their condition.
Addiction to opioids is a potentially life-threatening disorder that medical and mental health providers should address as a chronic disease. Just Believe Recovery center offers an integrated, clinically-proven approach to addiction treatment that features behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, peer group support, aftercare planning, and more.
Our center is staffed with caring and highly-skilled addiction specialists who deliver therapeutic methodologies and experiential activities those we treat with care and expertise. We are dedicated to ensuring every individual’s safe recovery and provide them with the tools, education, and support they require to recover and experience long-lasting, sustainable sobriety and well-being.