What Is Fentanyl? A Look at One of America’s Deadliest Drugs

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What is fentanyl? This seems like a burning question in America at the moment. It seems as if all news outlets often mention fentanyl when reporting on the increase in opioid overdoses across America. Of the 5,500 synthetic opioid overdoses that happened in 2014, fentanyl was often the main culprit.
Understanding ‘what is fentanyl’ is crucial in America’s war with drugs. It’s vital that drug users are becoming aware of this deadly and dangerous illicit drug. Now is not the time to brush this issue under the carpet. Turning a blind eye will only make matters worse. It’s time to shine the spotlight on these synthetic opioids.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is one of many synthetic opioids used to treat severe and chronic pain. It’s often prescribed for patients who have just undergone surgery or are seeking pain relief from chemotherapy. It’s widely considered to be a breakthrough cancer pain medication.

The fentanyl drug is a Schedule II Controlled Substance according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). It has a high addictive potential. Even recreational drug use can quickly lead to dependence and tolerance. The fentanyl drug is also often involved in drug abuse, as the effects of fentanyl are a substitution for heroin.

As a pain reliever, fentanyl is 25 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. It’s also 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Just several micrograms of fentanyl can result in opioid overdose and overdose death.

Fentanyl is a prescription drug that is not only wreaking havoc in America. It’s wreaking havoc all over the world. In fact, there’s a fentanyl crisis in British Columbia, Canada as well. It’s responsible for many accidental overdoses.

Although doctors prescribe fentanyl as a pain reliever, there are also many nonpharmaceutical fentanyl options on the black market. Tihe fentanyl drug is relatively cheap, so it is often buffed with other illicit drugs, like heroin.

Unfortunately, drug dealers can’t precisely measure the amount of fentanyl added to the drugs. As a result, it’s easy for drug dealers to add lethal doses to each batch accidentally. Fentanyl has now become one of the deadliest drugs in America. More people than ever abuse this prescription drug. There are also many recreational drugs containing fentanyl now. 

Common Street and Brand Names for Fentanyl

Fentanyl is as much of a prescription drug as it is an illicit drug. Due to this reason, it has many nicknames. Some are street names, and others are brand names. Other nicknames of fentanyl include:

  • Abstral
  • Actiq
  • China girl
  • Apache
  • China
  • China white
  • Dance fever
  • Duragesic
  • Fiend
  • Goodfellas
  • Ionsys
  • Jackpot
  • Murder
  • Sublimaze
  • Subsys
  • Tango and cash
  • TNT

Fentanyl comes in many forms. There are fentanyl patches and fentanyl injections. It can also come in powder form. Each form of fentanyl has distinct properties and benefits. Fentanyl powder is the most popular form of fentanyl available on the black market.

What is fentanyl sold as? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), fentanyl is sold in the following forms: a powder, spiked on blotter paper, mixed with illegal drugs, or as pills.

Side Effects of Fentanyl Use

Since fentanyl buccal tablets and even skin patches have similar effects to opioids, it’s not unusual that they can cause some serious side effects. Depending on the length of the fentanyl use, side effects can be short-term or long-term. CDC health and many public health advisories have outlined many potential effects of fentanyl use. 

Short-Term EffectsLong Term EffectsSerious Side Effects
Short-term effects of fentanyl tend to be temporary. They will either subside with time or will disappear once the fentanyl clears from the body. In most cases, these side effects are not serious. They include:
  • Altered heart and breathing rate
  • Euphoric sensations
  • Hallucinations and psychosis
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures
Other possible short-term side effects include constipation and constricted pupils. These side effects require even less attention. 

Long-term effects of fentanyl use are a bit more intense and serious. It usually means that the drug user has engaged in prolonged fentanyl use. Depending on the situation, these side effects may be permanent. They may show that the body has undergone some type of irreversible damage. Common long-term effects include:

  • Frequent mood swings, like depression
  • Increased risk for anoxic injury
  • Multiple organ system damage from oxygen deprivation
  • Poor judgment in all aspects of life
  • Social anxiety, which leads to social isolation
  • Worsened mental health and condition

Long-term effects may be due to brain damage. Fentanyl use, especially overdoses, can cause both cardiac and respiratory depression.

It’s fairly rare for most people to experience some of the more serious side effects. These side effects tend to mean that there’s something horribly wrong. It’s important to speak to a doctor immediately, as it may not be suitable for the patient. Some serious side effects include:
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Confusion with hallucinations and unusual thoughts and behaviors
  • Pale skin paired with easy bruising or bleeding
  • Shallow or weak breathing paired with a slow heart rate
Also, those who experience any signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction should also seek immediate medical attention. Some of these symptoms include hives and swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat.

Overdose Symptoms for Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl drug overdoses are some of the deadliest overdoses ever. This potent opioid easily and quickly diffuses through the blood-brain barrier. It then attaches to opioid receptors. The potency of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs means that the effects kick in immediately. Even a small dose can have a potent effect.

Overdose death rates have risen 540% in the last 3 years. Knowing how to spot an overdose is crucial. Those who spot an overdose early can seek medical attention immediately. This may reduce the lethalness of the overdose. The signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose include:


  • Bluish nails and lips
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Weak muscles

In simpler terms, fentanyl drug overdoses often look like heroin overdoses. The drug users will experience both cardiac and respiratory depression. They may end up looking like their falling asleep. The truth is that they’re losing consciousness. Eventually, they will stop breathing. These signs and symptoms are the same regardless of whether a drug user has snorted fentanyl or is using fentanyl skin patches.

When someone is overdosing on fentanyl, call 9-1-1 immediately. Acting quickly may save that person’s life. While it may save their lives, the overdose may still cause significant damage to the body. Most drug users who have experienced an overdose may struggle with permanent brain damage.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes how dangerous fentanyl and fentanyl analogues can be. They have put out many overdose prevention campaigns in hopes of raising awareness.

What Is a Lethal Dose?

opioid overdosesSince fentanyl is a potent opioid, even a small dosage can lead to a fatal overdose. Lethal doses will vary from drug user to drug user. It depends on each of their biological makeup and drug usage. With that said, many experts believe that the lethal dosage is about 2mg. This amount is dangerous for drug users with no tolerance to the drug. Even if it doesn’t cause a lethal overdose, it will cause some serious side effects.

Opioid tolerant users can get away with consuming larger amounts. They can use larger amounts of fentanyl analogs too, like fentanyl citrate or acetyl fentanyl.

Although 2mg may seem like a lot, it looks like several grains. The lethal dose for morphine hovers around 200mg. The lethal dose for heroin ranges from 75mg to 375mg. Fentanyl overdoses are much more common due to the small dose sizes.

How to Deal with a Fentanyl Overdose

With drug overdose deaths skyrocketing, knowing how to deal with a fentanyl overdose is crucial. Quick thinking can prevent serious side effects and adverse effects. When someone is overdosing from fentanyl, the correct procedure is to:

  • Administer opioid-reversing medications like naloxone. These medications block opioid receptors. It’s highly recommended by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and also used by law enforcement. These medications prevent thousands of drug overdose deaths each year.
  • Call 9-1-1 immediately. Seek immediate medical attention. Be sure to provide a detailed account of the drug use. This includes the dose taken, as well as the fentanyl analog type or form. For example, the first responders will want to know whether fentanyl skin patches were used.
  • Keep the drug user in the recovery position. This is an injury prevention technique that keeps drug users from choking on their own vomit.
  • Perform CPR as soon as possible and as needed. CPR can oxygenate an individual and prevent them from going into a respiratory depression. Keep an eye out for the condition of the vital signs.
  • Stay until help arrives. Make sure that the affected individual receives the help they need by staying by their side. Don’t hesitate to go with them to the hospital.

After the individual gets medical attention, consider staging an intervention. Don’t let the addiction spiral down further. Deal with it as soon as possible. It’s time to regain control.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Since a fentanyl addiction involves both tolerance and dependence, withdrawal symptoms are bound to appear when quitting. These symptoms often feel similar to having the flu. They’ll subside with time.
Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms tend to appear within 12 to 30 hours from the last dose. Some of the most common symptoms include:
  • Abdominal pain and stomach cramps
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Insomnia, nightmares and other sleep problems
  • Muscle or joint pain and weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Profuse sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Weight loss
The withdrawal symptoms will peak within a couple of days and will start to subside after a week. Psychological symptoms can last for weeks, if not months.
To manage withdrawal symptoms, drug users should slowly taper off of the drug. They may also consider medical detoxification. Medications like Suboxone and Vivitrol are particularly helpful. 

Commit to Sobriety

Fentanyl is a dangerous drug, claiming thousands of lives over the years. If you’ve been struggling with a fentanyl addiction, your life is at risk. Even if you don’t actively seek out fentanyl, you’re at risk of running into this drug. Many recreational drugs are buffed or mixed with fentanyl. Even several micrograms of fentanyl can cause a deadly overdose.

If you’ve been struggling with your recovery, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Our counselors are just one call away. We would be more than happy to walk you through the addiction treatment process. Our goal is to help you get and stay sober.

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1 thought on “What Is Fentanyl? A Look at One of America’s Deadliest Drugs”

  1. While I agree that the war on drugs has focused too much on the end user and not on the supply chain, I don”t believe this is a fight we can back away from. I live in Dayton Ohio, the heroin / fentanyl OD capital of the nation, I can”t see not trying to do anything we can to turn back this scourge that has decimated so many families and is only getting worse. That being said, our pre employment regimen does not include a drug screening, but we do test for reasonable suspicion and accidents. We have tried the usual job board postings, social media, recruiters, and are currently running radio ads to attempt to bring in new talent, but had diminishing success finding people who can hit the ground running upon their hire. We have mentorship programs and tuition reimbursement with OTJ training that have reasonable success but the talent pool of experienced machinists and programmers gets ever more shallow as we go. I hold out hope that market forces will work to eventually fill the gap, but we are quickly approaching crisis level in the mean time.

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