Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction

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Fentanyl use has been on the rise as the opioid epidemic continues. Fentnayl use has become a public health concern due to the overdoses that are associated with it. Fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II substance by the Drug Administration Enforcement. (1) Schedule II substances are illegal for recreational purposes, but can be used for medical purposes. Fentanyl is very addictive and can lead to negative health effects, and even death.

If you or someone you know engages in fentanyl abuse, or has difficulties controlling fentanyl use, treatment may be beneficial. Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer fentanyl and opioid specific detoxification services to help individuals stop their substance use in a medical and safe environment. Contact us today to get started.

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What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful drug that can lead to dangerous adverse effects. Fentanyl is naturally found from the opium poppy plant, or it can be synthetically created in a lab. (2) Fentanyl can be prescribed by a doctor, or made and used illegally. Prescription forms of Fentanyl have brand names including Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. (3) Fentanyl is often used to treat chronic or severe pain, usually present after surgery. Illegally produced fentanyl can be found in different forms, such as a powder or a liquid. (4) Powdered fentanyl is often mixed with other addictive substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. (5) It can also be made into pills that look extremely similar to prescription medications.

Causes & Risk Factors for Fentanyl Addiction

There are various risk factors that increase one’s chances of abusing or becoming dependent on fentanyl. Women have been found to be more at risk of developing an opioid addiction due to them being more likely to be prescribed opioid medications, and being given higher doses. (6)

Additional risk factors for fentanyl addiction include: (7)

  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Having a family history of substance use
  • Having a past history of substance use
  • Being ages 18 to 25
  • Having regular contact with high-risk environments or individuals
  • Having a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety
  • Often engaging in risky or thrill-seeking behavior
  • Experiencing stressful circumstances

How Addictive Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is highly addictive due to its potency. Fentanyl is 50 to a 100 times more potent than morphine. (8) Fentanyl addiction develops once an individual compulsively seeks the substance, has difficulties controlling their use, and continues to use the substance despite experiencing negative consequences. (9) Even individuals who have been prescribed fentanyl by a doctor can develop dependence on the substance or experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it.

Misuse of Prescription Fentanyl

Even fentanyl that is prescribed by a doctor can be misused and lead to addiction. When prescribed by a medical physician, fentanyl can be given as a shot, a patch, or as a sucker such as a cough drop. (10) Fentanyl patches have been found to be related to fatal overdoses. (11) Though individuals can misuse prescription fentanyl, fentanyl related deaths appear to be more common in illegally manufactured fentanyl.

Signs Someone May Be Addicted to Fentanyl

Understanding the signs associated with fentanyl or opioid use disorder can help you identify if you or a loved one are experiencing it.

Signs of fentanyl use disorder include:

  • Experiencing intense cravings
  • Inability to control how much fentanyl is used
  • Inability to successfully cut back or completely stop use
  • Engaging in continued fentanyl use despite experiencing negative consequences or adverse health effects
  • Engaging in social withdrawal or isolation since beginning fentanyl use
  • Experiencing a lack of motivation
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Neglecting relational, occupational, and social responsibilities
  • Sleeping for longer periods of time
  • Loss of appetite
  • Experiencing flu-like symptoms
  • Developing tolerance (needing more of the substance in order to experiencing the desired high)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

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Symptoms & Effects of Fentanyl Addiction

Like other opioids, fentanyl binds to the brain’s opioids receptors. It affects the part of the brain that controls pain and emotions. Over time, the brain adapts and makes it difficult to experience pleasure or positive feelings without the substance.

Behavioral

Behavioral effects of fentanyl include: (12)

  • Experiencing extreme happiness
  • Temporary euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings

Physical

Physical effects of fentanyl include: (13)

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Constipation
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Psychological

Psychological effects of fentanyl include: (14)

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Experiencing withdrawal

How Can an Overdose From Fentanyl Be Treated to Prevent Death?

Risk factors that can increase the chances of an individual experiencing a fentanyl overdose include: (15)

  • Changes in tolerance due to stopping use or cutting back.
  • Changes in drug supply.
  • Mixing opioids with central nervous system depressants, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol.
  • Mixing opioids with stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine.
  • Having serious health conditions such as heart disease, HIV, lung disease, or Hepatitis C.
  • Experiencing an overdose in the past.

Signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include: (16)

  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Being unable to stay awake
  • Losing consciousness
  • Slowed or weak breathing
  • Gurgling or choking sounds
  • Limp body
  • Cold, discolored, or clammy skin

Administering naloxone when someone is experiencing an overdose is a way to help prevent a death from occurring. It is also important that if you believe that you or someone you love is experiencing an overdose, immediate emergency medical care is seeked. Additionally it is important for the individual to be lying on their side in order to help prevent choking, and for them to stay awake.

Fentanyl Use, Addiction, & Overdose Statistics

Approximately 3 million individuals have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder. (17) Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common drugs involved in overdose related fatalities in the United states. (18) Approximately 150 individuals die daily due to synthetic opioid related overdoses. (19) Approximately 70,601 individuals experienced a death due to experiencing a synthetic opioid overdose (primarily with fentanyl). (20) Only as little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can lead to an overdose. (21)

The Cost of Fentanyl Use & the Opioid Crisis

The economic cost of fentanyl and opioid use disorder was approximately $1.02 trillion in 2017, according to the CDC. (22) This number rose to approximately $1.5 trillion in 2020. This cost is projected to continue to increase. (23)

Minimizing Risks & Exposure to Fentanyl

Having access to naloxone, psychoeducation, and effective mental health care are steps that can be taken to help minimize the risks associated with the development of fentanyl addiction. (24)

What Treatment Is Available to Those Who Suffer From Fentanyl Addiction?

Similarly to other opioids, the combination of medication and therapeutic intervention has been found to be effective in treating those experiencing fentanyl use disorder.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

The use of medications can be helpful in the treatment of fentanyl use disorder.

Medications often used during the treatment of fentanyl use disorder include: (25)

  • Methadone – an opioid full agonist that works by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Buprenorphine – an opioid partial agonist that works by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Naltrexone – an opioid antagonist that works by blocking the effects of fentanyl.
  • Naloxone – works by helping reduce the symptoms associated with fentanyl overdose.

Therapeutic Interventions

Attending a treatment facility that offers therapeutic interventions has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of fentanyl use disorder.

Therapeutic programs may include:

Therapeutic modalities used to treat fentanyl use disorder:

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For those seeking treatment for fentanyl, opioid, or other substance use disorder, Guardian Recovery is here for you. With dual diagnosis options, we offer treatment for those experiencing substance use and mental health disorders at the same time. Contact us to receive a free, no obligation insurance benefits check. Start your road to recovery today with Guardian Recovery.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/index.html
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/index.html
  6. https://pharmacy.ks.gov/k-tracs/consumers/prescription-drugs/opioids/women#:~:text=OPIOID%20OVERDOSE%20RISKS%20IN%20WOMEN,time%20of%20death%20by%20overdose.
  7. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/owcp/opioids/riskfactors
  8. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl#:~:text=Can%20fentanyl%20use%20lead%20to,when%20the%20drug%20is%20stopped.
  10. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  11. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/pharmaceutical/Pages/fentanylmisuse.aspx#:~:text=A%20number%20of%20deaths%20have,and%20are%20subject%20to%20trafficking.
  12. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  13. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  14. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  15. https://www.mass.gov/service-details/opioid-overdose-risk-factors
  16. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/index.html
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448203/#:~:text=Three%20million%20US%20citizens%20and,States%20are%20dependent%20on%20heroin.
  18. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  19. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/index.html
  20. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  21. https://health.ucdavis.edu/blog/cultivating-health/fentanyl-overdose-facts-signs-and-how-you-can-help-save-a-life/2023/01
  22. https://www.cdc.gov/policy/polaris/healthtopics/opioid/index.html
  23. https://beyer.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=5684#:~:text=Adapting%20a%20methodology%20used%20by,likely%20to%20continue%20to%20increase.
  24. https://nida.nih.gov/videos/reducing-risks-fentanyl-in-us
  25. https://nida.nih.gov/videos/reducing-risks-fentanyl-in-us

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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