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Fentanyl is a powerful opioid analgesic used to treat severe or chronic pain. Given its toxic chemicals, more and more people are abusing the drug as death rates associated with it continue to climb. Proper treatment under medical supervision is needed to break free of fentanyl addiction.
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on May 6th 2016 with 13 sources

Fast Facts: Fentanyl

Abuse Potential
Very High
Drug Class
Brand Names
Abstral, Actiq, Fentora, Onsolis
Side Effects
Nausea, Dizziness, Slowed heart rate, Shortness of breath, Fever, Chills
Street Names
Apache, China girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, Tango and Cash, Crush
How It's Used
Swallowed, Sublingual, Transdermal, Injected, Smoked
Legal Status
Schedule II

The Active Ingredient in Actiq and Duragesic

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic used to treat patients with severe pain. The drug is often used to mitigate discomfort after surgery or to treat cancer patients. Popular brand names for fentanyl include Sublimaze, Actiq and Duragesic.

It is the most potent opioid available for medical treatment and the most widely used for clinical practice. In 2013, more than 6.75 million prescriptions were dispensed in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2014, the number slightly dipped, though it remains a staple in hospital settings.

Individuals with addictions often detox alone. This is dangerous and should not be considered, especially with a drug as powerful as fentanyl.

Fentanyl provides welcome relief to those suffering from chronic pain. It is most commonly administered via transdermal patch, lozenge, pill or intravenously. Cancer patients are often given Actiq, a lollipop version of fentanyl, to fight pain.

However, a rising number of people use the drug recreationally, giving way to addiction and death.

How People Get Addicted to Fentanyl

Like other opioids, Fentanyl affects the brain. The drug increases levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This produces intense euphoric and relaxation effects, similar to heroin.

“Very small amounts of fentanyl can be fatal and could be readily absorbed through the skin.”

Steve Collins, Director of the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area

Fentanyl is fast-acting and habit-forming. A single dose of fentanyl yields extreme drowsiness, slowed heartbeat and irregular breathing. It is 25–50 times more toxic than heroin and 100 times more toxic than morphine.

Because of fentanyl’s chemical properties, law enforcement officials don hazmat suits when seizing the drug. Absorbing a pinch of fentanyl through the skin or eyes is enough to end lives.

History of Fentanyl Abuse

In 1959, Dr. Paul Janssen first produced Fentanyl to relieve pain in patients. It was used in hospitals, where physicians administered the analgesic to individuals fighting chronic pain.

Fentanyl abuse began in the mid-1970s in an unlikely group. Hospital workers, anesthesiologists and nurses would draw out fentanyl from vials and replace it with saline. Consequentially, increasing numbers of healthcare professionals would overdose on the drug.

More recently, Chinese clandestine labs and Mexican cartels got ahold of the recipe and made synthetic versions of the drug to sell internationally. Over time, the popularity of the drug gradually increased, and it spread to individuals of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Ways People Consume Fentanyl - Tablets, Powder, Patch, Injection

Where Fentanyl Is Found

Fentanyl can be found anywhere from suburban homes to back alleys. It sometimes enters the United States through Mexico, but it can also be purchased on the internet and shipped directly to the buyer’s home. The Drug Enforcement Administration has said that illegal labs in China are the primary suppliers of fentanyl for dealers in the United States.

Law enforcement officials are unsure how much fentanyl is in the United States, but it appears to be the “it” drug on the black market. Mass amounts are found all over the country, and Americans are buying fentanyl in record numbers.

It is a valuable drug. Hydrocodone sells for about $30 per pill on the black market. A kilogram of fentanyl power goes for upwards of $3,300, which is then sold for millions, per the DEA.

A person holding a needle

A Leading Cause of Overdose and Death

Fentanyl is sold on the streets in powder form under the guise of hydrocodone or heroin, and individuals unknowingly consume the drug. Many users mix the drug with other prescription medicines to increase its effects, which has led to alarming overdose and death rates.

Since 2005, Fentanyl has killed hundreds of people in the United States. It has contributed to the growing opioid epidemic in North America.

“Most heroin addicts know how much their body can tolerate. Then someone cuts the heroin with fentanyl, and that person is probably going to die because they don’t know what they’re getting.”

Steve Collins, Director of the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area

According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, the drug claimed more than 1,000 lives from April 2005 to March 2007. Most of these deaths happened in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Fentanyl abuse in recent years has been problematic:

  • In April 2016, the DEA issued a public safety alert after 36 overdoses and nine deaths in Northern California were linked to fentanyl.
  • In Philadelphia, there was a 300 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths from 2013 to 2014, according to the DEA. Of these deaths, sixty-five percent were white, 23 percent black and 12 percent Hispanic. Nearly 73 percent were men.
  • In 2015, New Hampshire saw 151 fentanyl-related deaths — five times more than heroin.
  • In 2014, fentanyl contributed to 538 deaths in Florida, per the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties accounted for one-third of the total.
  • The number of emergency room visits involving fentanyl nearly doubled from 2005 to 2011.

Fentanyl has also had a profound effect on Canada. The number of Albertans succumbing to the drug has trended upward since 2011:

Fentanyl-related deaths in Alberta, Canada
Year Death Count
2011 6
2012 29
2013 66
2014 120
2015 272

Source: The Calgary Herald

In 2015, Calgary saw drastic increases in theft, home invasions and bank robberies. Police say fentanyl abuse has contributed to this problem, according to the Calgary Herald.

Seeking Fentanyl addiction help?

We have programs designed specifically for you.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?

Fentanyl can be found in the body for about three days after last use. But research has indicated that norfentanyl, a metabolite of the drug, can remain for longer periods of time. Tests for fentanyl can use urine, blood or hair samples. Saliva tests are not reliable for detecting the drug.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your Urine?

A report published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia indicated that small doses of fentanyl were detectable in urine 24 hours after use. However, the opioid was not found in the system three days after ingestion. Norfentanyl was detectable in some patients four days after last use.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your Blood?

Fentanyl from a transdermal patch can be detected in blood plasma for more than 24 hours after use, according to test results from NMS Labs. The blood test targeted fentanyl and its metabolite norfentanyl.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your Hair?

Certain toxicology tests can detect fentanyl in hair follicles for up to 90 days after last use. A hair sample measuring 1.5 inches from the bottom of the root is required to confirm that fentanyl was used in this time frame. On average, it takes five to 10 days after fentanyl use for hair containing the drug to grow from the scalp.

Constipation, Slowed Breathing and Other Side Effects of Fentanyl

Fentanyl can be helpful for patients battling severe pain. However, side effects are possible even when administered properly.

“Fentanyl and it’s analogues are the most powerful opioids available today. It produces similar effects to heroin and morphine but will cause a more intense quicker high, which leads to quicker respiratory failure,” Steve Collins, director of the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said at the 2018 Southeastern Drug Prevention Summit.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Weakness

Less common and more moderate effects include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss
  • Spitting blood

Small amounts of fentanyl can lead to overdose. These symptoms include:

  • Clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Unconsciousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma

A single dose of fentanyl can be fatal. Within minutes, users may experience slowed breathing and lose consciousness. If untreated, this can lead to death.

“A minute amount will kill you. It is being mixed with heroin, Flakka and other drugs, and no one knows what they are taking. It’s scary.”

Raynette Savoy Kornickey, Spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in South Florida

The onset of addiction is common among illicit users of fentanyl. These individuals exhibit volatile behavior, sometimes spending large amounts of money or committing crimes to feed their addiction. Those experiencing addiction must seek immediate treatment.

Buprenorphine, Methadone and Other Therapies for Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl is physical and psychologically addictive. If used illicitly or for longer than prescribed, an addiction can form. Individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms that only a trained medical professional can alleviate.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Severe aches and pains
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Chills
  • Insomnia
  • Severe anxiety
  • Inability to think clearly

Individuals with addictions often detox alone. This is dangerous and should not be considered, especially with a drug as powerful as fentanyl. Professional treatment is an effective option with proven results.

Fentanyl addiction detox is similar to other opioid treatment methods because all opioids affect the same parts of the brain that cause opioid use disorders.

Treatment requires 24/7 monitoring throughout the detoxification period to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Acute withdrawal generally lasts three to five days. Drugs such as naloxone, buprenorphine and methadone may be used to combat the effects of the drugs.

Fentanyl is a dangerous drug with fatal consequences. Luckily, treatment is available. Those with an opioid addiction should immediately contact an addiction rehabilitation facility for support.

Chris Elkins, M.A.
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.
Kim Borwick, M.A.
Featured Expert
Jason Fields

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