Fentanyl is a synthetically-made strong opioid prescription-only medication used to treat severe pain.
Brand names include Abstral, Actiq, Durogesic, Matrifen, Fentalis and Sublimaze, while more commonly used street names are Dance Fever, Goodfella, He-Man, Great Bear and Jackpot. Fentanyl is highly addictive and known for its powerful effects on the central nervous system. Its potency causes those who take it to feel relaxed in a matter of minutes.
The four main types of fentanyl medication are available in different strengths and include:
- Patches applied to your skin
- Oral lozenges or tablets that dissolve
- Nasal spray
Recreational users often crush and snort tablets. They also dissolve tablets or lozenges in water and inject the liquid.
The stakes of buying illegally-made fentanyl are high. Fentanyl sold on the black market is usually produced in Chinese laboratories without quality control. Without quality control, it is easy to overdose due to inaccurate labelling regarding the dosage. Fentanyl is extremely addictive, and when provided on prescription, you will be carefully monitored and supported to reduce the dose gradually when you stop taking it.
If you use fentanyl, you can obtain naloxone injections in case of an overdose from drug services. You can find your local drug treatment service through FRANK or by calling their helpline — 0300 123 6600, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re using fentanyl recreationally, naloxone injections could save your or someone else’s life when used correctly!
What Causes Fentanyl Addiction
Fentanyl is one of the most powerful opioids and can easily lead to addiction. It works in a similar way to heroin and morphine, causing neuroadaptive changes in the brain and resulting in a significant increase of dopamine, producing intense euphoria. As with other opioid-based drugs, fentanyl addiction is also a result of changes in the function of areas in the brain involved in impulse control and emotions.
Fentanyl is normally used for treating cancer pain and following surgery or trauma caused by an accident. It may also be prescribed when other opioid medications are no longer strong enough to manage long-term pain. When taken on prescription, it is still possible to become dependent on fentanyl and this can lead to addiction. If fentanyl is used off prescription, the potential for addiction is incredibly high, even after just one use. In fact, fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and is often taken by heroin users as a cheaper alternative.
Over time you will need to use fentanyl more often and in higher doses to experience the same “high”. This is a result of your body becoming tolerant to the drug. Due to how fentanyl changes the brain’s function once addicted, it is almost impossible to stop using it. Not only will this cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, but frequent use of fentanyl also diminishes the ability to gain pleasure from other activities. This is why once addicted to fentanyl, obtaining and taking the drug will become your main priority — even if you are aware of the negative effects your drug use has on your work, relationships and quality of life.
Fentanyl Side Effects
Fentanyl’s effects can last anywhere from three to twelve hours, depending on the dosage.
Common fentanyl side effects include:
Skin rashes or itchy skin
Nausea and vomiting
Signs of a Fentanyl Overdose or Allergic Reaction
If you or someone you are with are experiencing any of the serious side effects listed below, call 999. Without immediate treatment, these symptoms could lead to death.
- Stiff muscles
- Shallow breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Red, swollen, blistering skin
- Tightness in your chest
- Swelling of your tongue, lips, mouth, face or throat.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Signs of addiction to fentanyl include difficulty going without the drug or feeling anxious when your supply runs low. Fentanyl can also have long-lasting withdrawal symptoms. Physical and psychological fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
When you begin the withdrawal process from fentanyl, you will typically experience mild symptoms during the first eight to 30 hours that may later get worse with time. By days five through to eight, primary symptoms should start waning; but for some, this period lasts several weeks or even months. You may also have acute withdrawal syndrome and struggle with cravings for years or the rest of your life.
Addiction Treatment for Fentanyl
Getting off fentanyl should always be done under medical supervision to ensure you do not suffer from dehydration, which can cause hypernatraemia (increased blood sodium levels) and heart failure. Even after short-term use of fentanyl on prescription, you may develop a dependence. Don’t let yourself get caught in its grip; it’s important you pay attention to signs of dependence like trouble going without or feeling anxious when your supply runs low.
If you find yourself constantly thinking about where you can get more fentanyl and when you can take it again, it’s important to speak to your GP and seek help for addiction. Overcoming fentanyl addiction is a brave, difficult journey. Though it’s not easy to admit help is needed, you can seek professional assistance through an NHS addiction treatment centre if you don’t want to speak to your GP — but keep in mind there are limited places for residential rehab due to long waiting lists.
At Step-by-Step Recovery, we provide non-judgmental support to help individuals beat addiction permanently. If you need advice about addiction treatment or want to learn more about our private residential rehab treatment in Essex, please complete our online assessment form or call our understanding team on 0800 170 1222 for free.
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Page revised in March 2023, by Matthew Reece, a certified PG cons diploma, a clinical Lead/ Senior counsellor at Step by Step Recovery.
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