Fentanyl is a dangerous opioid that’s made headlines in recent years for the sweeping number of overdose deaths in its wake. Created to treat severe pain in terminal illnesses and extreme pain management conditions, synthetic fentanyl has also become a drug of abuse for its “high-inducing” properties. Fentanyl has become a major contributor to the opioid epidemic, with the most deadly culprits of drug overdose tied to illegal fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, as well as cocaine, and meth cut with fentanyl.
A synthetic opioid, fentanyl was manufactured by drug companies to treat pain in cancer patients. Physicians may also prescribe it for surgery pain or for severe pain in people who have a tolerance to other opioids. Fentanyl is also sold on the streets as an illegal drug. It’s often used to cut drugs like heroin because it’s stronger and cheaper.
Unlike other opioids, fentanyl does not come directly from the poppy plant. It is a synthetic drug, meaning it is man-made from chemicals. Fentanyl is synthesized from the opium plant and undergoes a process to mimic the chemical structure of natural opioids. This allows fentanyl to attach to brain receptors in the same way as natural opioids and heroin, but it is made to be much more potent and powerful.
How long fentanyl stays in your system can vary depending on factors like how much you’ve taken, how you’ve ingested it, and your individual physical make-up. Testing for fentanyl is done through hair, urine, or blood tests. In general, this is how long fentanyl stays in your system based on these different drug tests:
Hair tests can detect fentanyl in your system for the longest amount of time — sometimes up to three months after last use.
Blood tests have been shown to detect fentanyl for up to two days after the last dose.
Fentanyl can be detected in urine for up to three days after last use.
The medical or legal forms of fentanyl come in:
- Lozenges or lollipops
- Patches for the skin
- Liquid/injection form
Fentanyl that’s been produced illegally is usually in powdered form. It’s ivory or light brown in color. Liquid fentanyl is typically clear. One of the reasons that fentanyl is so dangerous is because it’s nearly impossible to recognize when it’s been mixed with other drugs like heroin, cocaine, or meth.
Fentanyl doesn’t have an obvious discernible taste, which is another reason why you won’t be able to tell if drugs have been laced with it unless you use a fentanyl test strip. Fentanyl abusers have said that it has a sweet taste, and that this is in contrast to heroin, which tastes bitter. However, it’s speculated that the sweet taste may be from a liquid that fentanyl is sometimes mixed with, and therefore not a reliable way to detect it.
Fentanyl is extremely potent. It can be up to 100 times more powerful than opioids like morphine. Fentanyl is often mixed with street drugs like heroin because it’s easier to obtain, cheaper to produce, and produces a more powerful high. If you take your usual amount of heroin, not knowing that it’s laced with fentanyl, you’re at risk for drug overdose. Your body isn’t used to that potent amount of opioids, so it’s very dangerous. Fentanyl acts on your brain’s opioid receptors quickly and aggressively, releasing large amounts of dopamine. This can lead to extreme central nervous system imbalances and depressed respiration.
Deaths involving fentanyl are on the rise, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting over 36,359 deaths attributed to synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) in 2019. Fentanyl is classified as a schedule ll drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This means it is only approved for specific medical uses and has high potential for dependence and abuse.
Pharmaceutical fentanyl is injected, absorbed through the skin via patches, or taken orally (pills, lozenges, or lollipops). Illegal synthetic fentanyl in liquid form is usually taken with eye droppers, nasal sprays, or intravenously. Powdered fentanyl is smoked, snorted, or put on blotting paper to place in your mouth.
Fentanyl overdose is a real risk, especially if you’ve taken heroin or cocaine that’s been cut with it. Signs of fentanyl overdose include:
- Slowed breathing
- Constricted or “pinpoint” pupils
- Going limp
- Gurgling sounds
- Cold or clammy skin
- Low blood pressure
- Blue or grayish skin tone
- Loss of consciousness
A fentanyl overdose can be different from other opioid overdoses because symptoms come on quickly. Sometimes, a fentanyl overdose happens seconds or minutes after taking the drug.
The “high” effects of fentanyl come from the extreme amounts of dopamine it causes your brain to release. Fentanyl abusers report feelings of:
- Intense relaxation
- Perception and mood changes
Less desired effects of a fentanyl high include:
When you have a fentanyl addiction, you experience withdrawal symptoms when you go for periods without the drug, which can make you feel very sick and uncomfortable.
Physicians typically prescribe fentanyl for pain relief in cancer patients. It may also be used for pain management before or after surgeries. Occasionally, fentanyl will be prescribed to patients with severe or chronic pain who do not respond well to other opioids.
Fentanyl goes by a number of street names. Some of these include:
- China Girl
- Tango & Cash
- Great Bear
- China Town
- Dance Fever
Because of the way fentanyl acts on your brain, dependency and addition can be swift and intense. Like other opioids, it works on your reward system to send signals that you need fentanyl to survive, just like you need food, water, or sex. Fentanyl abuse can quickly deplete your brains’ dopamine supply, which is critical for several of your body’s functions. Your brain starts relying on opioids to produce even normal amounts of some neurotransmitters. At this point, you start needing fentanyl just to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. It no longer feels pleasurable, it’s simply needed to feel normal.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are different for everyone but may include:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Feeling too hot or too cold
Fentanyl addiction is treated like other opioid use disorders. Typically, you’ll start in inpatient drug rehab and transition into outpatient rehab as you get stronger in your sobriety. Here are some of the main components of fentanyl addiction treatment:
Withdrawal from opioids can be very uncomfortable and even dangerous in some situations. It’s important to undergo fentanyl detox under the care of medical professionals who can ease withdrawal symptoms and monitor your vital signs and comfort level around the clock.
Individual and Group Therapy
In one-on-one counseling, you’ll explore the issues behind your drug addiction. These often include:
- Trauma and PTSD
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
- Relationship challenges
- Poor self-esteem
Group therapy helps you process challenges with peers who share similar struggles. You’ll develop interpersonal skills and learn the value in authenticity and vulnerability.
Family therapy helps you and your loved ones learn how to support each other and communicate better. A behavioral health professional will help you discuss difficult topics and teach your loved ones how to best help you if you’re struggling.
Many substance abuse and mental health treatment centers offer both traditional and alternative treatments. These may include approaches like:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Art and music therapy
- Chiropractic services
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has proven to be a very useful relapse prevention tool for people with opioid addictions. MATs bind to opioid receptors in similar ways as heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids without getting you high. This can ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings so you can focus on behavioral therapy and developing relapse prevention skills.
Substance use disorders commonly occur with mental health disorders. Sometimes medications for mental health symptoms can lessen the urge to self-medicate anxiety, depression, and other psychological symptoms with drugs and alcohol.
If you or a loved one is abusing fentanyl, Footprints to Recovery can help. We offer evidence-based opioid treatment and a variety of levels of care for substance abuse, including:
- Medical detox
- Residential treatment
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- Outpatient treatment
- Dual diagnosis treatment
Call us to find a treatment program and location that works for you.
Opioid addictions are difficult to overcome, but with the right treatment and a desire to get better, recovery is very possible. We’ve seen thousands of clients take back their lives from drug abuse. You can too. Call our recovery center today.