Fentanyl Withdrawal

Fentanyl withdrawal is an unpleasant experience. You don’t have to be addicted to fentanyl to experience withdrawal symptoms. Doctors can help people taper off fentanyl patches prescribed for medical use. Rehab facilities can assist people addicted to the drug.
Topics On this page
| | 7 sources

Fentanyl is a powerful pain reliever prescribed to people who are tolerant to other opioids. Opioids are a class of drugs that include morphine. They are often misused for the high they produce.

As tolerance develops from regular exposure to the drug, the brain starts to rely on the drug to feel normal. This is called dependence. When a person stops taking the drug, the brain reacts negatively. This causes withdrawal symptoms.

Fentanyl is stronger than other opioids used to relieve pain, such as Vicodin or Percocet. Anyone who takes fentanyl for multiple days will become dependent on the drug. Prescription fentanyl patches are generally applied to the skin once every three days for pain relief. So people who are prescribed fentanyl patches will likely experience some form of withdrawal.

People who abuse fentanyl become dependent more quickly. The withdrawal symptoms caused by misusing fentanyl are usually more severe than withdrawal symptoms caused by therapeutic use.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Most opioids cause similar withdrawal symptoms. The severity and duration of the withdrawal symptoms depend on the type of opioid, the dose consumed and the frequency of use. The type of opioid is important because the strength of opioids differ.

For example, hydrocodone is about the same strength as morphine. Oxycodone is about 1.5 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is prescribed in low doses, but the effects are powerful. The withdrawal symptoms are severe if the drug is stopped abruptly.

Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include:

  • Yawning
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Cramping
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle pain
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fast breathing

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Withdrawal from fentanyl can begin within three to five hours of discontinuing the drug. The method of use affects when withdrawal occurs. Patches provide fentanyl for three days. Withdrawal from a fentanyl patch may begin about three days after putting the patch on the skin.

People who misuse fentanyl by smoking the drug or misusing patches may experience withdrawal more quickly. Peak effects of withdrawal usually begin eight to 12 hours after withdrawal begins, and fentanyl withdrawal usually lasts between four and five days.

How to Taper Off Fentanyl Patches

Most forms of prescription fentanyl are administered infrequently. They’re used to treat breakthrough pain in cancer patients who are already receiving other forms of opioid medication. These people are tolerant to other opioids, but their tolerance is unlikely to increase from a single dose of fentanyl.

Most of the time, fentanyl withdrawal is caused by fentanyl patches or fentanyl misuse. You can taper off fentanyl patches without experiencing withdrawal by slowly reducing the dose of the drug. But you shouldn’t try to taper on your own.

Sample Fentanyl Patch Taper Schedule

  • Current dose: 75 micrograms/hour
  • Day 0: Apply a 50 microgram/hour patch
  • Day 3: Apply a 50 microgram/hour patch
  • Day 6: Apply a 25 microgram/hour patch
  • Day 9: Apply a 25 microgram/hour patch
  • Day 12: Apply a 12.5 microgram/hour patch
  • Day 15: Apply a 12.5 microgram/hour patch
  • Day 18: Discontinue fentanyl

Note: Tapering may be adjusted or extended by your doctor if withdrawal symptoms occur.

A sample schedule for tapering off fentanyl patches without feeling withdrawal

Doctors can prescribe decreasing doses of the drug. The label for Duragesic, a brand name of fentanyl patches, recommends decreasing the dosage by 50 percent every six days while monitoring for signs and symptoms of withdrawal.

In some cases, doctors may prescribe other opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. They’ll start off with a higher dose of one of these drugs and slowly reduce the dose.

Tapering off fentanyl without a doctor’s help is not a good idea. Attempting to manipulate fentanyl patches may cause a fentanyl overdose. It’s impossible to determine the strength of drugs purchased on the street. Using street drugs to taper off fentanyl may lead to other health problems, such as prescription drug addiction.

Attending Detox for Fentanyl

People who misuse fentanyl to get high or who are addicted to the drug may struggle to adhere to a tapering schedule. Medical detox programs help people trying to quit fentanyl stay accountable and detox in a safe environment.

Rehab facilities monitor individuals going through withdrawal and provide medication to ease some withdrawal symptoms. Addiction professionals can also administer opioid replacement therapy.

Medications called methadone and buprenorphine are opioids with low potential for abuse. They’re used to slowly wean individuals off other opioids, such as fentanyl.

People who are receiving opioid replacement therapy can attend opioid rehab, where they will learn healthy strategies for avoiding relapse.

Fentanyl withdrawal can happen to those who misuse fentanyl and to people receiving fentanyl for pain management. In both cases, doctors or other health professionals can allow clients to taper off fentanyl while easing most withdrawal symptoms.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer, DrugRehab.com
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, MA
Editor, DrugRehab.com

Was this article helpful?

How helpful would you rate this article?


    DrugRehab.com logo

    Thanks for helping us make our website better for visitors like you!

    View Sources

    Ready to make a change?

    Get cost-effective, quality addiction care that truly works.

    Start Your Recovery
    We're here to help you or your loved one.
    Question mark symbol icon

    Who am I calling?

    Calls will be answered by a qualified admissions representative with Advanced Recovery Systems (ARS), the owners of DrugRehab.com. We look forward to helping you!

    Question mark symbol icon

    Who am I calling?

    Phone calls to treatment center listings not associated with ARS will go directly to those centers. DrugRehab.com and ARS are not responsible for those calls.