Table of Contents
Written by Amethyst Recovery
Amethyst Recovery is a foremost authority on addiction and a trusted online source of substance abuse information. Their expert team of addiction professionals provide well researched content for people in the grip of addiction. All posts are fact checked and sourced.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is one of the most powerful and fast-acting synthetic opioid narcotics available. Fentanyl is available in prescription versions, but illicitly manufactured versions are also sold illegally on the black market. The use of fentanyl has been one of the primary contributing factors to the opioid epidemic as well as the surge in deaths related to opioids.
Fentanyl can be prescribed only in certain situations because of its potency and habit-forming potential. Fentanyl is intended to be prescribed to treat breakthrough pain for patients with cancer.
Someone prescribed fentanyl should already be on another around-the-clock opioid for constant pain management. Then, the fentanyl can treat any pain that occurs while the patient is on that constant opioid treatment. That’s what breakthrough pain refers to.
Fentanyl should only be prescribed to cancer patients 18 and older, or in a few cases, patients 16 and older may be prescribed some forms of the narcotic.
Fentanyl Treatment Options
Fentanyl is a highly deadly drug. If someone is abusing it or addicted to it, seeking help is essential. There are different fentanyl treatment options available.
- Fentanyl Rehab – Whether you are struggling with an addiction to fentanyl or your loved one is, treatment is available.
- Fentanyl Detox – Before someone can start any kind of fentanyl rehab program or any fentanyl treatment plan, they have to detox from the substance fully. A fentanyl detox is a time when a patient can be monitored and treated for withdrawal symptoms.
- Fentanyl Inpatient Rehab – Following a full detox from fentanyl, most people benefit from inpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab can last anywhere from 28 days up to several months or more. Patients stay overnight in the rehab facility and participate in intensive treatment programs and therapy.
- Fentanyl PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) – During a partial hospitalization for fentanyl addiction, participants receive treatment all day most days of the week for a period of time. The only major difference between a fentanyl PHP and inpatient rehab is that during a PHP, patients return home in the evenings or to a sober living house.
- Fentanyl Outpatient Rehab – Outpatient rehabs can vary quite a bit in intensity, types of treatment and therapy offered, and general format. A fentanyl outpatient rehab is typically something a person will transition into once they’ve completed a more rigorous and intensive rehab program in an inpatient or partial hospitalization setting. Abusing fentanyl can and often does lead to addiction, overdose, and death.
- Fentanyl Treatment – Fentanyl is a highly deadly drug. If someone is abusing it or addicted to it, seeking help is essential. There are different fentanyl treatment options available.
- Fentanyl Facilities Types
- Fentanyl Residential Options
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Fentanyl is prescribed in some of the following forms:
- Actiq is a brand-name fentanyl lozenge. It’s somewhat like a lollipop because it’s attached to a handle.
- There are sublingual forms of fentanyl which are meant to be dissolved under the tongue. For example, there is a brand-name sublingual tablet called Abstral, and there is also a brand-name film called Onsolis.
- Fentora is a brand name tablet that is designed to dissolve between the gum and the cheek.
Other forms of fentanyl can be given to a patient by injection or through a transdermal patch which goes directly on the skin.
Side effects a person may experience if they’re prescribed fentanyl can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Anxiety or depression
- Changes in vision
- Unusual thinking
- Dry mouth
- Sleep disturbances
- Nausea or vomiting
While fentanyl’s prescription uses are supposed to be fairly limited because of its strength, in rare situations it might be used to treat conditions other than breakthrough cancer pain. For example, it may be used to treat severe pain following surgery or to treat chronic pain when patients are tolerant to other types of other opioids.
There are stringent regulations and laws guiding how fentanyl can be prescribed and used. Despite these guidelines and regulations, fentanyl abuse is a significant problem contributing to tens of thousands of deaths each year.
The reason for this is because fentanyl is illegally manufactured. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold as a powder, mixed with heroin, or mixed with certain opioid drugs that would ordinarily be less potent. Fentanyl is also sometimes sold on blotter paper.
Fentanyl abuse can occur when people swallow the drug, inject it, or snort it.
How Does Fentanyl Work?
Fentanyl works similarly to other prescription opioids, but it’s much stronger. Fentanyl is estimated to be as much as 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl activates opioid receptors. These receptors are located throughout most of the body, including the entire central nervous system.
When opioid receptors are activated, it changes how the brain and body sense and responds to pain. At the same time, many people will experience a sense of euphoria when they use opioids. This euphoria can trigger the brain’s reward cycle.
Fentanyl is a central nervous system depressant as well. Central nervous system depressants slow thinking and all of the body’s major functions including breathing and heart rate.
Signs of Fentanyl Addiction
Why is Fentanyl Addictive?
When someone uses fentanyl, either by prescription or illegally, it causes a flood of certain neurotransmitters into the brain. These are “feel-good neurotransmitters.”
These naturally-occurring brain chemicals are released into the brain and body when someone does things that make them feel good, such as eating, sex or exercise. With drugs like fentanyl, an artificially high level of feel-good neurotransmitters is released into the system of the user.
The Reward Cycle
That’s what leads to the brain’s reward cycle. The brain is conditioned to want to continue seeking those things that bring a pleasurable feeling. In this case, this makes the brain want to continue using fentanyl.
Unfortunately, the pleasurable and euphoric response your brain has to fentanyl is likely going to be short-lived. People develop a tolerance to fentanyl relatively quickly. Once this happens, the user might not even feel euphoria or pleasurable feelings anymore. At this point, however, they have to continue using fentanyl to avoid withdrawal.
There are differences between fentanyl abuse, addiction, and dependence. While all three conditions will usually occur together, they are distinct conditions.
Fentanyl abuse refers to a situation where a person is using fentanyl in any way outside of how it’s prescribed or intended to be used. If someone is abusing fentanyl it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re addicted, but the more someone abuses opioids, the more likely they are to become addicted.
Signs of fentanyl abuse can include:
- Using fentanyl without a prescription, such as taking it from a family member or buying it illegally
- Taking a larger dose of fentanyl than prescribed
- Continuing to take fentanyl for longer than prescribed
- Using it other than how it should be used, such as crushing tablets to snort or inject them
Signs of Addiction
Addiction is considered a diagnosable disorder. There are a set of criteria a healthcare professional will use to determine how many symptoms of fentanyl addiction a person displays. Addiction can be classified as mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms a person has.
Some signs of fentanyl addiction can include:
- Being unable to stop using fentanyl
- Using fentanyl despite negative physical side effects
- Problems with relationships
- Trying to stop using fentanyl at least once and being unsuccessful
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Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Fentanyl is a drug that causes not only addiction but also dependence. Dependence can occur even if a person uses fentanyl exactly as prescribed. First, someone will start to develop a tolerance. This means that they need larger and larger doses of fentanyl to get the same effects they once did when taking a smaller dose.
As someone develops a tolerance, they’re also likely becoming dependent on fentanyl. Fentanyl dependence means that if someone stops taking it, it sends their brain and body into a type of shock. This is called withdrawal.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and can lead to physical and psychological health complications.
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