What is Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid prescribed to clients who already have tolerance to other pain medications.  Due to its potency, it has a high potential for addiction.  It is a powerful synthetic opioid similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.  It is a prescription drug that is also made and used illegally.  Like morphine, it is a medicine typically used to treat clients with severe pain, especially after surgery.  However, it is also sometimes used to treat clients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.  Tolerance occurs when you need a higher and more frequent drug to get the desired effects.

Fentanyl is one of the deadliest drugs that exist today
Fentanyl is one of the deadliest drugs that exist today

Methods of Use

When prescribed by a doctor, fentanyl can provide a shot, a patch on a person’s skin, or as tablets that are sucked like cough drops.  The illegally used fentanyl most often associated with recent overdoses is made in labs.  This synthetic fentanyl is sold unlawfully as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids.  Some drug dealers mix fentanyl with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. 

This is because it takes very little to produce a high with fentanyl, making it a cheaper option.  This is especially risky when people taking drugs don’t realize they might be cut with fentanyl as a cheap but dangerous additive.  As a result, they might be taking more potent opioids than their bodies are used to and can be more likely to overdose.  To learn more about how fentanyl is being cut into other drugs, visit the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Facts webpage.

How Does Fentanyl Affect the Brain?

Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions.  After taking opioids many times, the brain adapts to the drug, diminishing its sensitivity, making it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the pill.  As a result, when people become addicted, drug-seeking and drug use take over their lives.

Side Effects Include:

  • Extreme happiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Sedation
  • Problems Breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Can you Overdose on Fentanyl?

Yes, a person can overdose on fentanyl.  An overdose occurs when a drug produces severe adverse effects and life-threatening symptoms.  When people overdose on fentanyl, their breathing can slow or stop.  This can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain; a condition called hypoxia.  Hypoxia can lead to a coma and permanent brain damage, and even death.

How Can an Overdose Be Treated?

As mentioned above, many drug dealers mix the cheaper fentanyl with other drugs like heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamine to increase their profits, making it often difficult to know which drug is causing the overdose.  Naloxone is a medicine that can treat a fentanyl overdose when given right away. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of opioid drugs.  But fentanyl is more substantial than other opioid drugs like morphine and might require multiple doses of naloxone.

Because of this, if you suspect someone has overdosed, the most crucial step to take is to call 911 so they can receive immediate medical attention.  Once medical personnel arrives, they will administer naloxone if they suspect an opioid drug is involved.

Specialists should monitor people given naloxone for another two hours after the last dose of naloxone is given to make sure breathing does not slow or stop.  Some states have passed laws that allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a personal prescription.  Friends, family, and others in the community can use the nasal spray versions of naloxone to save someone who is overdosing.

Can Fentanyl Use Lead To Addiction?

Yes.  Fentanyl is addictive because of its potency.  A person taking prescription fentanyl as instructed by a doctor can experience dependence, characterized by withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped.  A person can depend on a substance without being addicted, but support can sometimes lead to addiction.

Addiction is the most severe form of a substance use disorder (SUD).  SUDs are characterized by compulsive drug seeking and drug use that can be difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.  When addicted to drugs, they continue to use them even though they cause health problems or issues at work and home.  A SUD can range from mild to severe.

People addicted to fentanyl who stop using it can have severe withdrawal symptoms that begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken.  These symptoms include:

  • Muscle and Bone pain
  • Sleep Problems
  • Diarrhea and Vomiting
  • Cold Flashes with goosebumps
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Severe Cravings

These symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and are why many people find it so difficult to stop taking fentanyl.  Medications are being developed to help with the withdrawal process for fentanyl and other opioids.  The FDA has approved lofexidine, a non-opioid therapy designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.  Also, the NSS-2 Bridge device is a small electrical nerve stimulator placed behind the person’s ear to ease symptoms for up to five days during the acute withdrawal phase.  In December 2018, the FDA cleared a mobile medical application to help treat opioid use disorders.  This application is a prescription of cognitive behavioral therapy and should be used with treatment, including buprenorphine and contingency management.

How Is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?

Like other opioid addictions, medication with behavioral therapies is effective in treating people with fentanyl addiction.

Medications

Buprenorphine and methadone work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as fentanyl, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.  Another medicine, naltrexone, blocks opioid receptors and prevents fentanyl from having an effect.  People can discuss treatment options with their health provider.

Counseling and Therapy

Behavioral therapies for addiction to opioids like fentanyl can help people modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use, increase healthy life skills, and help them stick with their medication.  Some examples include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy:  Which helps modify the client’s drug use expectations and behaviors and effectively manage triggers and stress
  • Contingency Management:  This uses a voucher-based system giving clients”points” based on negative drug tests.  They can use the points to earn items that encourage healthy living.
  • Motivational Interviewing:  Which is a client-centered counseling style that addresses a client’s mixed feelings to change

These behavioral treatment approaches have proven effective, primarily when used along with medicines. 

We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope.  We work as an integrated team providing information about What is Fentanyl and other aspects of treatment.  Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life.  Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists.  Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.