Effects of Fentanyl Use

The effects of Fentanyl (often mixed into Heroin and Cocaine) use can be immediate and deadly. Synthetic Opioids like it killed over 28,400 people in 2017.

What Are the Effects of Using Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is among the most potent prescription Opioids available for the clinical treatment of pain today. It is also one of the most powerful illicitly-manufactured synthetic Opioids currently sold on the streets. The strength of the effects of Fentanyl (both legal and illegal variations) depend on multiple factors of the person using it, including:

  • Weight and health
  • Amount and dosage used
  • Tolerance level
  • If taken with other substances

The chemical compound known as Fentanyl is available under brand names Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®. On the street, it may be made into counterfeit pills to look like other Opioids (such as Oxycodone or Vicodin®) or even Benzodiazepines (such as Xanax®). It is also frequently mixed into Heroin and Cocaine without the user’s knowledge.

While the physical and mental effects of all Opioids are similar, Fentanyl is up to 100 times more powerful than Morphine and 50 more powerful than Heroin.

In addition to a sense of euphoria, the immediate effects of using fentanyl can include:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed skin and sweating
  • Intense drowsiness and fatigue
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Weakness

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How You Use Fentanyl Alters Its Effects

Depending on the method in which it’s taken, the effects of using Fentanyl can be immediate – causing many people to black out with a needle still in their arm – or take up to 45 minutes to kick in (such as when using the Duragesic patch). In addition to Fentanyl patches, the Opioid is available for prescription in tablets, lozenges, and nasal sprays.

Most street Fentanyl (often manufactured to be even more powerful than its legally-made analog) is sold as a powder or pressed into counterfeit pills. It has also been dripped onto blotter paper and put into eye droppers and nasal sprays.

As little as 250 micrograms of Fentanyl (or 0.00025 grams) is considered a lethal dose, compared to about 30,000 micrograms of Heroin (or 0.03 grams).

The table below illustrates how different methods of taking fentanyl alter the strength of its effects.

(in Ascending order of approximate potency)
Ingesting prescription Fentanyl tablets Taking Actiq, Fentora®, Abstral®, or Onsolis® films typically produces effects within 15 to 30 minutes that last for about six hours.
Duragesic Fentanyl patch Effects felt within 30 to 45 minutes and can last 72 hours or more.
Smoking or snorting illicit Fentanyl Effects felt in under 30 seconds, powerful enough to cause overdose. Effects last up to 90 minutes.
Injecting illicit Fentanyl Immediate effects powerful enough to cause overdose, even in people with a history of Heroin use. Effects last up to 90 minutes.

When you take too much Fentanyl (typically, a tiny fraction compared to other Opioids), the body is unable to process the amount of Opioids in its system, causing an overdose. Signs of a Fentanyl overdose include:

  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Difficulty talking or moving
  • Feeling faint or confused
  • Nodding in and out of consciousness
  • Shallow or stopped breathing
  • Slow or stopped heart beat

Long-Term Health Effects of Fentanyl Use

Often, people who abuse Fentanyl experience an overdose due to its immensely powerful effects.

Often, people who abuse Fentanyl experience an overdose due to its immensely powerful effects. Still, people who survive repeated misuse of pharmaceutical-grade Fentanyl or illicit Fentanyl are at high risk of damaging important pathways in the brain. For instance, Opioid drugs change the brain’s natural reaction to increases in dopamine. Dopamine is involved in reinforcing behavior and produces pleasurable feelings when released in the brain. Taking Fentanyl bypasses this naturally-functioning system, then floods the brain with dopamine and leaves it wanting to repeat the process. However, the body can quickly become tolerant to these effects, requiring higher and higher doses to feel the substance’s side effects. Subsequently, repeated use of Fentanyl can create a dependence on abusing the drug to feel normal.

In addition to developing a tolerance and addiction, long-term health effects of Fentanyl use include:

  • Altered mood
  • Constipation
  • Damage to judgement and decision-making abilities
  • Increases in feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Impaired memory and learning ability
  • Irregular menstruation in women
  • Reduced libido in men
  • Respiratory system weakening

Depending on how an individual abuses Fentanyl, other health consequences can include contracting HIV or Hepatitis via injection drug use or engaging in risky sexual behaviors while under the influence of drugs.

Withdrawal From Fentanyl and Detox Treatment

When a person stops taking Fentanyl, it is likely he or she will experience some symptoms of withdrawal. Because this particular Opioid is so powerful, withdrawal symptoms are more likely to kick in much sooner than other Opioids (such as Hydrocodone or Methadone). In an interview with the New York Times, one man with a long history of Heroin addiction reported needing to use Fentanyl up to 10 times a day to stave off withdrawal – compared to two or three times per day using Heroin.

Symptoms of Fentanyl withdrawal include:

  • Cold flashes and goosebumps
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased anxiety and agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Runny nose
  • Severe generalized body pain
  • Uncontrollable leg movement

Frequently, people experiencing Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms need to attend a detox center. Fentanyl withdrawal can start within 12 hours of the last dose for individuals who had used slower-acting Fentanyl. For those who injected Fentanyl or snorted it, symptoms of withdrawal may be between 1 and 3 hours.  A majority of withdrawal symptoms persist for 1 to 2 weeks. Some symptoms of Fentanyl withdrawal, such as diarrhea and vomiting, can become life-threatening if not supervised by medical professionals.

Fortunately, the FDA has approved several medications for the treatment of Opioid withdrawal and addiction. Addiction treatment medications give patients the best chance of successfully completing detox and rehab programs by alleviating withdrawal symptoms and/or reducing drug cravings.

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Get Help for a Fentanyl Addiction Today

Fentanyl is a growing concern in the US due to its powerful effects and the ease with which drug trafficking organizations produce it. Today, a majority of Opioid-related overdoses involve synthetic Opioids like Fentanyl – approximately 28,400 deaths in 2017.

With proper treatment and rehab therapy, anyone is capable of recovery. For more information on Fentanyl rehab and addiction treatment programs, talk to a recovery specialist today.

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