Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid found in both prescription and illicit forms. It is available as a pill, white powder, spray, sublingual film, or as time-release formulas in gel patches or lollipops. Hospitals sometimes administer it via injection. Illicit versions of fentanyl are typically in powder form.
Fentanyl is a human-made painkiller similar to heroin, but as much as 50 times more powerful. Clinically, it is employed to relieve severe pain, such as during or following surgery or injury. It may also be used on a long-term basis for chronic conditions such as cancer or palliative care.
Common brand names for fentanyl include, but are not limited to, the following:
Actiq – Actiq, or fentanyl citrate, is a lozenge attached to a plastic stick, similar to a lollipop placed under the tongue. It is used to treat “breakthrough” pain related to cancer that is not controlled by other medications.
Duragesic – Duragesic is a transdermal gel patch prescribed to treat moderate-severe pain. Its analgesic effects can last for up to 72 hours.
Sublimaze – Sublimaze, an injectable form of fentanyl, is usually administered in hospitals, and often alongside anesthetics. It is used to mitigate pain before, during, and following surgeries.
Subsys – Subsys is a sublingual spray administered under the tongue that delivers immediate pain relief. Like Actiq, its primary purpose is to address breakthrough, cancer-related pain.
Fentanyl Abuse and Effects
Like other opioids, fentanyl works by binding to receptors in the brain and boosting the production of feel-good neurochemicals such dopamine. For this reason, people who routinely use fentanyl are at high risk for dependence and addiction, regardless of whether it is taken as directed by a doctor or illegally.
Those who use fentanyl in amounts excessive of prescription doses or illicitly will experience euphoria and relaxation similar to feelings induced by morphine and heroin, albeit more intensely.
Common side effects of fentanyl abuse may include the following:
- Slowed breathing
- Blurred vision
Fentanyl abuse is especially hazardous to those without a high tolerance to opioids. The risk of overdose is further increased when an individual without tolerance abuses it. Combining fentanyl with illegal drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, or meth, can amplify the substance’s harmful effects.
The abuse of fentanyl can perilously depress a person’s respiratory system leading to a life-threatening overdose. A fentanyl overdose is considered to be a medical emergency that requires immediate intervention.
A person who has been exposed to fentanyl may encounter the following symptoms:
- Respiratory arrest
- Nervous system depression
- Loss of consciousness
If you or someone you know is experiencing the aforementioned symptoms related to fentanyl use, you must call 911 immediately. First responders can administer Narcan (naloxone), a medication that reverses the effects of opioids and can, as a result, save a life.
What Does Fentanyl Addiction Look Like?
Signs of addiction include the following:
- Tolerance, characterized by the need to use ever-increasing amounts to achieve the desired effect
- Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use
- Using to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Obsession with obtaining and using fentanyl
- Being unable to stop using despite having the desire to do so
- Neglect of social activities due to the need to use fentanyl
- Using fentanyl despite the incurrence of adverse effects
- Significant physical and mental health issues
- Strained or broken interpersonal relationships
- Poor performance professionally or academically
- Financial problems
- Social withdrawal
- Arrest and incarceration
- An overwhelming sense of hopelessness and suicidal ideations
Drug dependence is both physical and psychological in nature. When the brain is repeatedly exposed to a substance, it adapts to its presence, and functioning is altered. Dependence commonly leads to full-blown addiction in which the person engages in compulsive drug-seeking despite encountering adverse consequences as a result.
Many individuals who become dependent on opioids or other substances have a genetic predilection to addiction. Others are at an increased risk due to severe health disorders. Some start using fentanyl legitimately to treat pain and end up abusing it and becoming dependent. Health problems are not limited to those which are physical, however. If a person has a mental health condition, he or she may be more likely to abuse substances as a means of self-medication.
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is an extremely dangerous condition that usually requires long-term professional treatment. People who are dependent on opioids such as fentanyl need to undergo a medical detox followed by a comprehensive, evidence-based addiction treatment program.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues in both partial hospitalization and inpatient formats. We employ compassionate, highly-skilled staff committed to providing each person we treat with all of the tools and support they need to experience a full recovery.
If you or someone you love is ready to break the cycle of addiction, contact us today and find out how we can help!