What are the Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse?

Prescription Fentanyl is a powerful opioid derivative and pain killer. Fentanyl was initially used to treat cancer pain, and it is up to 100 times stronger than morphine, and more potent than heroin. As opioid prescription overdoses have continued to rise in the U.S., fentanyl has been the biggest culprit in increasing overdose death rates. Illegal manufacturers of fentanyl have begun mixing the drug with street heroin, creating a powerful and deadly mix that has caused numerous deaths and tragedies. Although fentanyl is incredibly effective for alleviating the pain and suffering of acute and chronic pain patients, it is highly addictive and deadly if abused.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl was invented in the 1960s as a way to treat severe, acute pain, typically the pain associated with cancer and other debilitating health conditions. A patient can take prescription fentanyl as a skin patch, dissolvable tablets, or in a dissolvable film that is placed between the gum and cheek. On the street, fentanyl is often mixed with heroin and taken intravenously.

Fentanyl is one of the most powerful of the opioid derivative drugs. Even if a person takes fentanyl as directed, they can still become physically dependent on the drug. People who take fentanyl as a way to get high can become addicted with the first use.

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As an opioid derivative, fentanyl quickly binds to the body’s natural opioid receptors in the brain as soon as it is taken. The effects of fentanyl are an intense, euphoric feeling and the marked alleviation of pain. Patients can often become drowsy, and should not operate machinery if taking prescription fentanyl.

Taken by itself, fentanyl is incredibly powerful. When someone mixes fentanyl with other drugs or alcohol, the effects are even more intense and often deadly. Deaths attributed to fentanyl overdoses are responsible for 29% of all drug overdose deaths in the U.S. Fentanyl was also responsible for 59% of all opioid-derivative drug overdoses in 2017.

Who is most likely to abuse fentanyl?

People who are given prescription fentanyl for pain management can quickly become dependent on the drug even with perfect use. The potency of the drug is to blame for fentanyl’s ability to become habit-forming. Many people who start taking prescription fentanyl can find themselves dependent on the drug, and experiencing severe and painful withdrawal symptoms when they skip or miss a dose. Non-medical uses of prescription fentanyl abuse are highest among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

What factors can increase a person’s risk of becoming addicted to prescription fentanyl?

The root cause of addiction is not well-understood in the medical field. However, certain factors can increase a person’s of becoming addicted to drugs, including fentanyl.


Having a close relative with substance use disorder can increase the chances of someone becoming addicted. There may be possible genetic factors at play, or a person may have internalized drug addiction as a “normal” part of life.

People who live in an environment where they are exposed to drug addiction and abuse either in the family or in a peer group are at increased risk of becoming addicted.

People with untreated, co-occurring disorders may be at increased risk of addiction. Clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mood disorders can compel someone to turn to drugs or alcohol to find relief from adverse mental health symptoms.

Fentanyl and other opioid-derivative drugs flood the user with intense euphoric feelings. A person can turn to heroin or fentanyl to alleviate painful emotions, stress, or sadness. This is also why people with depression are at higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs than the general population


What are the signs and symptoms of fentanyl abuse and addiction?

Fentanyl abuse and addiction are similar to abuse and addiction of other opioid-related drugs, and there aren’t any reported differences for fentanyl abuse. However, if a person is prescribed fentanyl and they become addicted, they may frequently “lose” their prescription as a way to get more drugs. Doctor shopping may also be an issue with prescription fentanyl addiction. People who are addicted to prescription drugs may even steal family and friend’s prescriptions to get high. There are physical, emotional, and behavioral signs of addiction that people need to consider.

  • Drowsiness, fatigue, or dozing off at inappropriate times
  • Slurred speech and incoordination
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities
  • Moodiness
  • Taking more of a prescription than intended to get the desired effect
  • Money issues related to purchasing expensive street drugs
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation, nausea, and vomiting
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Continued use despite negative consequences

Fentanyl is also deadly if a person takes it not as prescribed. Signs of an overdose include confusion, blue-tinged lips and fingernails, unresponsiveness, coma, and death. It is imperative that witnesses call 911 if they believe someone is overdosing on fentanyl. If a person gets help from emergency responders quickly, medical professionals can reverse the effects of the drug and save a life.

What is done to treat fentanyl addiction?

Because fentanyl is a highly addictive and intense drug, most people who are addicted will need to undergo a medically-supervised detox. In detox, medical staff and therapists are available 24/7. They can prescribe medications to lessen the severity and duration of fentanyl withdrawal. Depending on the patient’s needs, they may prescribe drugs like Buprenorphine/Naltrexone to help reduce cravings for fentanyl and withdrawal symptoms.

After detox, patients will need to attend either inpatient rehab or intensive outpatient rehab. Underlying, co-occurring issues may be addressed and treated in one-on-one therapy, and patients will also have access to group therapy. Under the guidance of a therapist, patients can learn how to live a life of sobriety, avoid triggers, and deal with stress in ways that do not involve turning to drugs for relief. To avoid relapse, a team of doctors and therapists, along with the patient’s input, will put together a long-term maintenance plan to help the patient avoid triggers and relapse.

Drug rehab and addiction treatment will be different for everyone, and customized treatment plans are the most effective. If you or someone you care about is suffering from fentanyl addiction, the dedicated therapists and doctors at Windward Way can help. Please contact Windward Way today to explore your options for addiction treatment.


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