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Why Is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is extremely dangerous. It is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II substance, meaning that it is illegal for recreational purposes, but it can be used for specific medical reasons. (1) Fentanyl can be used to help treat severe or chronic pain, usually following a surgical procedure. (2) Fentanyl is very addictive and over time, it can lead to dangerous health effects. Unfortunately, approximately 150 people die every day due to experiencing a fentanyl, or other opioid related, overdose. (3)

If you or a loved one are having difficulties controlling fentanyl use, opioid use disorder may be present. Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer treatment services for those experiencing substance and alcohol use disorders. With opioid specific detoxification services available, you or your loved one can work towards ceasing your substance use in a safe environment. Tackling substance use can seem like a daunting task, however, you are not alone. Contact us today to receive more information on which treatment option may be best for you.

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Fentanyl & Its Extremely High Potential for Addiction

Why is fentanyl so dangerous? One reason is because of its high potential for addiction. Approximately 16 million individuals around the world, and 2.1 million individuals living in the United States have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder. (4) Additionally, fentanyl can produce powerful effects. As little as the equivalent of 5 grains of salt can cause an individual to experience adverse side effects. (5) Fentanyl increases levels of dopamine, which is known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, throughout the brain. This increase in dopamine leads to an individual craving more, which eventually results in the development of addiction.

Fentanyl Is Many Times More Potent Than Morphine

Fentanyl is similar to another substance known as morphine. Like fentanyl, morphine is also an opioid and is used to help treat pain. Morphine also floods the brain with dopamine and can lead to addiction. Fentanyl, however, is 50 to 100 times more potent. (6) This is because morphine is derived from a natural substance known as the poppy plant, while fentanyl is synthetic. Since fentanyl is stronger than morphine, morphine is often considered the safer choice in terms of pain management.

Difficulty in Identifying Presence of Fentanyl

Fentanyl is an interesting substance as it is nearly impossible to identify its presence. A fentanyl test strip is the only way to identify fentanyl. Fentanyl is tasteless, has no smell, and is too small to identify with the human eye. (7) Fentanyl test strips are able to produce results within 5 minutes (8) Fentanyl test strips having the ability to produce timely results can be the difference between life or death for some individuals.

Minute Amounts Can Cause Overdoses & Death

One reason why fentanyl is so dangerous is the fact that small amounts can result in negative consequences, and even lead to overdose or death. As little as two milligrams of fentanyl can lead to death, depending on an individual’s size, weight, age, tolerance, and past use. (9) Approximately 1 kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people. (10)

Fentanyl Mixed in Counterfeit Prescription Pills & Substances

Fentanyl can be made into pills that resemble other prescription opioids. (11) This is a common practice among drug dealers. It is not uncommon for drug dealers to mix fentanyl with other addictive substances, such as cocaine, MDMA, or heroin. (12) This is due to fentanyl being cheaper and a substance that is easy to produce a strong high. This can be dangerous as some individuals may take a drug not knowing that it contains fentanyl. Equally as unfortunate, an individual may take a substance knowing that it contains fentanyl, yet not know the exact amount. This can lead to accidental overdoses or even death.

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Dangerous Effects Caused on the Body

Fentanyl can produce adverse effects to the brain and body, with repeated use leading to more dangerous consequences. Fentanyl affects the part of the brain responsible for pain and pleasure. Repeated or chronic fentanyl use can lead to tolerance, or the need to consume larger amounts in order to experience pleasure or reach the desired high.

Common side effects of fentanyl use include: (13)

  • Extreme short-term happiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Sedation
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Fentanyl Is Dangerous to First Responders

Since fentanyl can be absorbed through the body, it can be dangerous to first responders. First responders can be exposed to fentanyl through skin contact, ingestion, inhalation, contact through the eyes, nose, or with a needle stick. (14) Skin contact is the most common way that first responders are exposed to fentanyl. Fortunately, first responders receive various trainings in order to help increase their awareness and to learn the proper steps to take if they are exposed.

What Percent of Overdose Deaths Are Caused by Fentanyl?

Fentanyl and other opioids have become the most common substances involved in overdose deaths. In 2017, 58% of opioid related deaths included fentanyl. (15) In 2021, there were 70,601 opioid related deaths caused by individuals experiencing overdoses. (16)

Signs and symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include: (17)

  • Contracted pupils
  • Being unable to stay awake and/or losing consciousness
  • Slow breathing and heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Choking
  • Clammy, cold, or discolored skin
  • Seizures

If you or someone you know experience any of the above symptoms, seek immediate emergency care as fentanyl overdose can be fatal.

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction or Opioid Use Disorder

Fentanyl use can lead to addiction, whether it is used daily, or only tried once. Even those taking fentanyl prescribed by a doctor can experience dependencies or develop opioid use disorder. Understanding the signs of fentanyl addiction and opioid use disorder can help you identify if you or a loved one are experiencing it.

Signs of fentanyl addiction or opioid use disorder include:

  • Intense cravings
  • Inability to control how much fentanyl is ingested
  • Inability to successfully cut back or stop
  • Continued fentanyl use despite experiencing negative consequences or side effects
  • Isolating oneself since beginning fentanyl use
  • Experiencing a lack of motivation
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Neglecting social, relational, occupational or other important responsibilities
  • Sleeping for longer periods of time
  • Loss of appetite
  • Experiencing flu-like symptoms
  • Developing tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Signs and symptoms associated with fentanyl withdrawal include:

  • Mood swings
  • Impulsivity
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Physical discomfort
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Uncontrollable shaking

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Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer treatment for those experiencing dependencies to fentanyl. Our skillfully trained clinicians can provide you with therapeutic interventionspsychoeducation, and life skills classes that will help you or a loved one develop adaptive coping techniques. With dual diagnosis options, we offer treatment for those experiencing substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. One of our Treatment Advisors is ready to speak with you to help initiate the recovery process. A free, no obligation insurance benefits check can be provided to help determine which of our services is covered by your insurance plan. Contact us today to start your road to 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.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


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:

Cayla Clark

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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