Fentanyl Abuse: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment - PAX Riverbend

Fentanyl Abuse: Everything You Need to Know

While the opioid crisis in America continues to affect millions of people, a fairly new drug from the opioid class is wreaking havoc among the communities nationwide. Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that causes fatal consequences for many users. One of the most alarming issues associated with fentanyl is that many users are unaware that they are ingesting it. This is due to heroin manufacturers using the drug as a replacement for heroin and counterfeit prescription pills. Whether fentanyl abuse is intentional or accidental, it can be deadly.


People who intentionally abuse fentanyl typically have a high tolerance for opioids. For example, after some time, heroin users may develop a tolerance to heroin and turn to fentanyl to achieve their intended high. However, fentanyl is extremely dangerous no matter the user’s tolerance. In fact, studies show that fentanyl accounted for nearly half of opioid overdoses in 2016. 


Facts on Fentanyl

While fentanyl is commonly used illicitly, this drug originated as a synthetic opioid designed to relieve severe pain. It is classified as Schedule II, meaning it has medical use as well as a high potential for abuse. Additionally, fentanyl is notoriously potent, with the drug being 100 times stronger than morphine. In fact, fentanyl has such a high potency that even ingesting a tiny amount of this drug could turn fatal. 


Medically, fentanyl is only prescribed to patients with severe and chronic pain, such as cancer patients. Furthermore, this drug is not prescribed unless a patient has already developed a tolerance to less potent opioids such as morphine. When prescribed, this drug comes in the form of a patch, a sublingual tablet, lozenges, buccal tablets and films placed inside the cheek, and intravenously. However, when used illegally, it is made and sold in the powder form. 



Side Effects of Fentanyl Abuse

If you or your loved one is abusing fentanyl, early intervention could make the difference between life and death. Fentanyl is an extremely potent drug that has the ability to cause a fatal overdose after just one use. While fentanyl should never be used recreationally, many people are addicted to this drug. 


Common side effects of fentanyl abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Pain relief
  • Euphoria 
  • Relaxation
  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble thinking 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Constipation 
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes in mood 
  • Chest tightness 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating 
  • Confusion 
  • Slowed breathing


If you or a loved one uses fentanyl and experiences vomiting, sweating, confusion or slowed breathing, contact 911 immediately. These side effects are common signs of a fentanyl overdose and could turn fatal quickly. Additionally, if you are witnessing a fentanyl overdose it is vital that you call for help and begin to perform CPR. If you have access to Naloxone, or Narcan, this medication helps to reverse opioid overdoses. 


Common Signs of Fentanyl Abuse 

While most people who abuse fentanyl experience frequent overdoses and often, death, there are a few signs of fentanyl abuse that are common among the abuse of any opioid. For starters, people abusing fentanyl may seem drowsy or confused. Also, individuals abusing fentanyl often complain of headaches and nausea or vomiting. Abnormally small pupils, slowed breathing, struggling to stay awake, and pale skin is all related to fentanyl abuse as well. 


Common items associated with fentanyl abuse:

  • Used fentanyl patches or discarded packaging found around the house
  • Spoons in odd locations 
  • Needles or syringes 
  • Pieces of foil 
  • Glass vials 
  • Empty plastic bags with powder residue
  • Used blotter paper 


Due to the potency of fentanyl, very few individuals who abuse this drug can conceal their habit. Anyone abusing opioids will experience drastic behavioral, physical, and health-related changes. However, fentanyl is the most potent drug in the opioid class, so these changes will appear more severe. 


Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

Addiction is a disease of the mind and body. Specifically, fentanyl addiction occurs once the drug changes an individual’s pleasure and reward system in the brain. Being addicted to fentanyl, or any drug, causes a decrease in the ability to self-regulate emotions, control urges, and recognize the consequences of your actions. One of the most obvious signs of fentanyl addiction is experiencing a dependence on the drug that causes withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not ingested after a period of time. 


Common signs of fentanyl withdrawal include: 

  • Restlessness 
  • Yawning 
  • Chills 
  • Irritability or anxiety 
  • Runny nose or watering eyes 
  • Sweating or chills 
  • Muscle pain, joint pain, and overall weakness 
  • Stomach cramps 
  • Widened pupils 
  • Backache 
  • Fast or labored breathing 
  • High blood pressure and increased heart rate 
  • Nausea and vomiting


Due to the severity of the symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal, quitting this drug cold turkey is not recommended. In fact, anyone attempting to get sober from fentanyl abuse should undergo medical detox. 


Treatment for Fentanyl Abuse 

Individuals seeking treatment for fentanyl addiction should begin their recovery at a licensed medical detox facility. Medical detox programs provide patients with 24/7 care, addiction therapy, and a safe place to detox from fentanyl. During detox, patients may be prescribed medications to help lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, these facilities are staffed with trained medical professionals who closely monitor each patient in order to ensure safety.


After completing detox, it is recommended for patients to undergo inpatient opioid addiction treatment. Facilities like PAX Riverbend are highly trained in treating the physical, mental, and emotional effects of fentanyl abuse and addiction. If you or a loved one is suffering from an addition to fentanyl, do not hesitate to call us today. You may be one phone call away from saving your life. 

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.