Understand Fentanyl Use, Abuse, Addiction & Recovery

opioid doctor

Opiate Treatment Might be Different than You Expect

5 Quick Facts About Fentanyl

  • Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate that is typically used in surgical situations
  • Time-release formulas are typically prescribed to cope with pain
  • Fentanyl works by blocking the brains ability to perceive pain
  • It is meant to be taken for a short time period, such as for post-operative highly acute (strong) pain
  • “Home Made” fentanyl has been sold to opiate abusers on the West Coast, causing a large amount of overdoses in a short period of time

Fentanyl is an effective medication that does not have to be deadly. Many people who take Fentanyl take it exactly as directed for a short period of time for acute pain.

Unfortunately for a percentage of the population, the narcotic effects will send the user spiraling into a cycle of an addiction due to the user’s genetic predisposition and environmental factors.

Increasingly,  people have become Fentanyl users after they have abused other drugs (especially opioids). In mid-2016, in California as well as on the East Coast, a large rash of overdoses were blamed on drug dealers selling Fentanyl to users who were heroin users.  These users might have mistakenly believed they were getting heroin.

Fentanyl is Strong (Deadly)

Fentanyl is approximately 80 times stronger than morphine and 40 to 50 times stronger than pharmaceutical grade heroin.  It comes as no surprise that in 2016 it was in the news for causing a rash of overdoses in Northern (Sacramento) and Southern (Orange County and Los Angeles County).

Fentanyl is Called:

Typically fentanyl is known simply as”fentanyl” and this drug name is becoming very high profile due to the alarming overdoses. It is also known by some of the following brand names:1

  • Actiq
  • Durogesic or Doragesic
  • Fentora
  • Matrifen
  • Haldid
  • Onsolis
  • Instanyl
  • Abstrat
  • Lazanda

We think it would be helpful to list the names of several other opiates as those who abuse these substances almost universally will seek out “all of the below:”

  • Oxys or Oxies (OxyContin)
  • OCs (OxyContin)
  • Vics or Vikes (Vicodin)
  • Smack (heroin)
  • Dope (heroin, but also very “vague”  – could apply to other drugs, including marijuana)
  • Junk (heroin or sometimes methadone)
  • Black tar (heroin)
  • Brown sugar (heroin)
  • China white (heroin)
  • Chiva or  Cheeba (heroin)
  • Horse (heroin)
  • “Mexican” “Persian” (or other country of origination – for heroin)

How is Fentanyl Ingested or Used?

Time release Fentanyl actually comes in two seemingly innocuous forms that  can be dangerous. One form is a lollipop that dissolves slowly. The second, and most common version, is a patch users place on their skin.

Fentanyl can also come in the form of small piece of film that can be dissolved under the tongue or a dissolvable pill. Fentanyl is injected in hospital settings and many users graduate to injecting it as a street drug as well. Injecting fentanyl is very dangerous because the amount that cause overdose isn’t far from the amount that is considered therapeutic.

What are the Symptoms of Fentanyl Use?

Friends and family of a Fentanyl user may be able to notice changes in their loved one when they’re high. A Fentanyl user who is on the drug may be short of breath, and have small, constricted pupils. When under the influence, the user will appear disoriented and  “out of it.” They may be seeming completely awake at one moment and then passing out, or “nodding off” the next. Somebody who is high on fentanyl may appear as if their body is very “heavy” when they are high. They may even be unable to even lift their head.

A fentanyl user who injects the drug will also keep paraphernalia (tools) to use the drug around. There may be needles or syringes in their living quarters with no medical purposes. You may notice burned silver spoons or small plastic bags, with a white powdery residue in them.

What Are the Long-Term Effects and Dangers of Fentanyl Use?

Fentanyl is a dangerous narcotic drug that can cause death in just one use, especially for those who inject it with a needle. Users who inject the drug run a risk of HIV/AIDs from re-used needles, and bacterial or staph infections from unsanitary conditions.

Recreational users are at risk for generally poor health, frequent skin infections, infections of the heart and heart-related illnesses. Fentanyl users are also at an increased risk for seizures.

Long-term users may suffer from chronic pneumonia, pulmonary diseases, liver disease, blood clots or tissue death resulting from collapsed veins.

Of course, the main concern with fentanyl use (beyond  fatal overdose) is that the user gravitates to other medications (like street heroin) when they can’t obtain fentanyl.

Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Dependency/Addiction

Prescription drugs such as Fentanyl are highly addictive and may lead a user to seek a different opiate (such as heroin on the streets) when the supply is unavailable.

Fentanyl users can become addicted fairly quickly the drug because of its powerful effects and notoriously painful withdrawal. There is no safe recreational usage of fentanyl and it is very easy for users to become addicted as they build a tolerance, needing more and more of the drug to get high.

An addict will have continued drug-seeking behavior that causes problems in their daily life. Users who inject the drug may wear long sleeves in hot weather to hide needle marks. You may notice that a fentanyl user has rapidly lost weight and appears pale or sickly.

Once addicted, a fentanyl user may have financial problems, legal problems or trouble keeping a job. Their drug usage will also cause dramatic behavior changes, such as poor hygiene or a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

As a user becomes more dependent on the drug, they may lose interest in their hobbies, start stealing from friends and family, or become increasingly hostile to concerned family members. Side effects from fentanyl abuse and addiction can change as the disease progresses.

What are the Symptoms of Fentanyl Withdrawal?

Fentanyl addicts often feel compelled to continue using the drug to get the high they crave. Known for its intense withdrawal affects and its pain relieving effects, once addiction is established, fentanyl users often fear quitting the drug.

Like many opiates, withdrawal symptoms2 can start a few hours to a day after sustained use of the drug stops. Withdrawal pains are intense and users will experience intense cravings, may sweat profusely, and feel muscle aches, bone aches and intense cramping. They may even run a fever.

If you’re looking to get clean from fentanyl, you should not attempt to detox on your own. Medical supervision is necessary to make you as comfortable and safe as possible.

Withdrawal symptoms following Fentanyl dependence can cause serious medical complications, and sometimes, even death.

Getting Help for Fentanyl Addiction

If you’re worried you have a problem with fentanyl, or any other opiate or prescriptions drug, there is hope for recovery. Treatment offers you the chance to cease using the drug and find a new way of life. You can take control of your life and make changes for the better, with a little help and our therapeutic team of professionals.

Not sure what recovery program is right for you? Please give us a call. It’s 100% confidential and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about your options.


1.Fentanyl DrugFacts, available here.
2.Opiate and opioid withdrawal, available here.