Substance Use

What Are the Side Effects of Fentanyl Abuse?

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Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, has emerged as a significant contributor to the ongoing opioid crisis, with its misuse leading to devastating consequences. While prescribed for severe pain management under careful medical supervision, fentanyl abuse has escalated dramatically in recent years, fueling a surge in overdose deaths and addiction cases.

Understanding the side effects of fentanyl abuse is crucial for raising awareness about its dangers and implementing effective prevention and intervention strategies.

In this article, we delve into the various adverse effects associated with fentanyl misuse, shedding light on the short-term and long-term side effects of this dangerous opioid along with suggested treatment.

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What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl, or China White, is a synthetic opioid used to manage severe pain, particularly in cases of chronic pain, post-surgical recovery, or cancer pain. It belongs to the class of drugs known as opioids which include oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, and codeine.

According to a study conducted by the Justice Gov on opioid awareness, fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and has a high potential for abuse and opioid overdose. (1)

Others take the drug unknowingly after a supplier mixes it into other substances. On the street, it is often disguised as potent heroin or added to other substances to turn a higher profit. Unfortunately, fentanyl use is driving high overdoses, many of which are fatal.

Rates of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, increased over 22% from 2020 to 2021. (2) This rate is 18 times higher than the number of overdose deaths in 2013 and requires national attention.

Side Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

In addition to providing pain relief when used as prescribed, fentanyl, like other opioids, can cause various side effects, especially when misused or abused.

People who misuse fentanyl might experience side effects such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chest pain
  • Sleepiness
  • Extreme tiredness

These effects can occur when high doses of fentanyl are taken or when it is used more frequently than prescribed. It’s important to understand that the misuse of opioids like fentanyl can lead to serious health problems and even overdose.

What Are the Short-Term Side Effects of Fentanyl?

The short-term effects of fentanyl are similar to other opioid analgesics. However, since this drug is so potent, even a slight increase in dosage can cause complications.

According to the DEA, when taking fentanyl, you can expect some or all of the following effects (3):

  • Drowsiness and sedation
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea 
  • Respiratory depression
  • Visual disturbances and possible hallucinations
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Coma
  • Possible overdose, followed by death

What Are the Long-Term Side Effects of Fentanyl?

One of the most problematic long-term side effects is addiction. Users enter a dangerous cycle of abuse, increasing their risk of a fentanyl overdose. If a user injects fentanyl, they also increase their risk of transmitting hepatitis or HIV.

Once treatment is required, the process is relatively complex, requiring professional, comprehensive support. At this point, a user may have experienced significant damage to their physical health, mental health, and relationships. For example, chronic fentanyl abuse can lead to weakened immunity. (4)

Some users will also experience:

  • Seizures
  • Breathing problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Personality changes
  • Delusions

These effects can result in social withdrawal. 

The longer you use fentanyl, the greater the risk of the following long-term side effects (5):

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • High risk of overdose
  • Impaired memory 
  • Skin infections
  • Chronic constipation
  • Damaged veins (if injecting)
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Shallow breathing

What Are the Effects of a Fentanyl Overdose?

The effects of a fentanyl overdose can be profound and life-threatening, including: 

  • Depressed central nervous system function
  • Slowed breathing
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Lowered blood pressure

Individuals who experience a fentanyl overdose may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Difficulty breathing

In severe cases, respiratory depression can progress to respiratory arrest, coma, and death if prompt medical intervention is not administered. Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. (6)

Fentanyl’s potency exacerbates the risk of overdose, as even small amounts can have a significant impact on the body’s vital functions. Recognizing the signs of a fentanyl overdose and seeking immediate medical assistance is critical for saving lives.

How Is Fentanyl Abused?

When a doctor prescribes fentanyl, such as Sublimaze, it’s administered as fentanyl patches, lozenge, or injectable solution. However, illegally produced fentanyl is sold as a powder, which can be snorted, smoked, injected, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, made into pills, or dropped onto blotter paper. (7

Since fentanyl is highly addictive, users quickly develop a dependence. Users will often take a spectrum of opioids based on what they can get to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. Some will take heroin, while others will take a combination of prescription drugs — often stealing them or purchasing them illegally. 

Signs of Fentanyl Abuse

As a loved one, it’s essential to spot possible symptoms of fentanyl abuse. At first, you may begin to notice changes in behavior and mood. Users will often become withdrawn. They may also place themselves in risky situations despite the potential consequences. 

Another key sign is fentanyl withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process. Those addicted to fentanyl who stop using will experience the following as early as a few hours after the last dose was taken. The symptoms are incredibly uncomfortable, causing people to continue using even if they no longer want to. 

In this case, look out for the following warning signs (8):

  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Vomiting
  • Severe cravings
  • Cold flashes
  • Sleep issues 
  • Uncontrollable leg movements

Types of Drugs and Substances that Interact with Fentanyl

Polysubstance drug abuse is a significant public health concern in the United States, as 50% of overdose deaths involved multiple drugs in 2019. (9) Taking other substances, like cocaine, benzodiazepines (aka benzos), or alcohol, can drastically worsen fentanyl’s side effects. In a clinical setting, this can cause complex scenarios. (10

Since fentanyl is an opioid, you must avoid taking other opioids simultaneously. Combining fentanyl with other opioids can significantly increase the risk of drug overdose deaths. The combination of depressants will slow your breathing and increase your risk of brain damage and overdose.

How Is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?

Treating fentanyl addiction follows a similar approach to managing any opioid use disorder. It also varies based on the severity of the addiction. It may involve options such as inpatient or outpatient detoxification, and medications to help alleviate cravings and prevent relapse.

Another device that might work is called the NSS-2 Bridge. It’s a small electrical nerve stimulator that tucks behind the ear and can help ease symptoms during acute withdrawal.

The FDA also approved reSET, a mobile app designed to help treat opioid addiction. (11) It offers cognitive behavioral therapy and should be paired with medical treatment when possible. 

In the instance of fentanyl overdose, Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is a safe and easily accessible medication used to reverse the effects and help restore breathing. 

Medications designed to treat opioid use disorders, including fentanyl addiction, are deemed safe. They function by engaging with the opioid receptors in the brain, similar to those influenced by fentanyl, but without inducing the same outcomes.

  • Methadone, an opioid receptor full agonist, attaches to and activates opioid receptors to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. (7)
  • Buprenorphine, an opioid receptor partial agonist, attaches to and partially activates opioid receptors to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. (7)
  • Naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist, prevents fentanyl from attaching to opioid receptors, thus blocking its effects. (7)

It’s crucial for individuals struggling with fentanyl addiction to seek medical attention, as stopping fentanyl suddenly can be life-threatening. Healthcare providers can provide important health information and support to help people recover from opioid use disorders safely.

Getting Help

Fentanyl abuse is a serious matter and an ongoing public health issue. This synthetic drug contributes to high overdose rates, which is why addiction treatment is critical. All it takes is one dose for a potentially fatal effect. 

Treating fentanyl addiction is a complex process that often requires a range of evidence-based treatment options. Since no two individuals are identical, finding an individualized treatment program is crucial. At Zinnia Health, we understand the value of holistic, customized treatment — no program should take a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Fentanyl addiction treatment is a stepping stone to a better life — one where you’re free from the potentially deadly highs and lows of drug abuse. Whether you seek detox support, a professional inpatient setting, or intensive outpatient treatment, Zinnia Health is here for you and your family.

We offer health and healing for everyone, everywhere. Today is the day you say yes to the life you want and deserve. 

Fentanyl has claimed the lives of thousands of victims. The longer you use it, the higher the risk. However, with one phone call, that can all change. Our comprehensive treatment plans are tailored to your unique needs and goals, helping you achieve a healthier, more fulfilling future. Please contact Zinnia Health using the phone number (855) 430-9439 to discuss your situation and begin the healing process.


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Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us