Fentanyl Abuse & Addiction

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 08/24/2023

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Updated 08/24/2023

Article Overview:

  • Fentanyl is considered 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and carries a high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence. 
  • Fentanyl is available by prescription and illicitly in multiple forms, including fentanyl patches, injections and powders. 
  • Some of the symptoms of fentanyl use include euphoria, drowsiness, sedation, with side effects including constipation, nausea, dizziness and dehydration. 
  • Taking fentanyl in any way other than prescribed, doctor shopping, lying about symptoms and spending large amounts of time or money on fentanyl are all signs of fentanyl abuse and possibly addiction. 
  • Fentanyl addiction is considered severe in any circumstance because of the potency of this prescription painkiller and is best treated with a medical detox and inpatient, residential treatment.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an incredibly potent opioid. This Schedule II prescription drug is used to treat severe pain in medical settings, often following surgery or for pain in patients with cancer. In some instances, it may be used to treat chronic pain in opioid-resistant patients. It is a strong opioid, considered 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Fentanyl is known in brand name forms as Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze and others. When someone is buying or selling fentanyl on the streets, it may be known by many names, including Apache, China Girl, China White and others. Illicit forms of fentanyl may be combined with heroin, making them so powerful that people can overdose on small amounts.

When fentanyl is taken as prescribed, it’s usually given as an injection or a patch on the skin. It may also be given in lozenge form. However, most of the fentanyl overdoses throughout Colorado are the result of fentanyl that’s produced illegally. When fentanyl is produced in illegal labs, it’s often made in powder form or put on blotter paper.

Understanding Fentanyl Addiction

Addiction is a complicated health problem. Addiction occurs when a person feels compelled to keep using a substance like fentanyl despite negative consequences in their life. Even if a person wants to stop taking fentanyl, addiction makes it hard for them to do so.

Fentanyl, like other opioids, is addictive. It binds to mu-opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. It impacts the areas of the body and brain that regulate and control emotions and pain.

When fentanyl binds to opioid receptors, it triggers the brain’s reward centers and floods the brain with dopamine. This is responsible for the high people feel with this drug and other opioids. This is also why people become addicted. Their brain starts to seek out the substance that led to the feelings of euphoria, and a cycle of addiction is born.

Fentanyl can also create a physical dependence. Physical dependence occurs when your body becomes so used to fentanyl’s presence that it can’t function normally without it. When a person who’s physically dependent on fentanyl suddenly stops taking it, they can experience withdrawal symptoms.

Fentanyl Patch Addiction

Fentanyl patches are prescribed in medical settings to deliver a controlled amount of the painkiller to a patient. These transdermal patches are put directly on the skin. Since the medicine is delivered in a time-released way, people wonder whether or not fentanyl patch addiction is possible.

The answer is yes. A fentanyl patch can create a high, and it can lead to abuse and addiction.

Some methods of abusing fentanyl patches include applying multiple patches directly to the skin and changing out the medicated patches more often than you’re supposed to. People may also chew the patches or swallow them to get the medicine more quickly and strongly. They may insert them rectally, inject the gel from the patches, or create tea from the patch.

It’s incredibly dangerous to abuse fentanyl patches in this way because they are meant to give a large amount of fentanyl over an extended period of time. When that dose is given all at once, the risk of overdose is very high.

Fentanyl is an increasingly severe problem throughout Colorado. People can abuse fentanyl in many different ways, and some people are even taking it inadvertently without knowing and ultimately dying as a result. It’s not just the bigger cities of Colorado like Denver and Colorado Springs where the effects of fentanyl are being felt, however. It’s also in rural areas.

According to NPR and the Colorado Health Institute, the death rate from overdoses in certain counties has increased dramatically. Rural areas and small cities are seeing problems on the same level as the big cities.

Signs of Fentanyl Use

Symptoms of fentanyl use can be scary if you see them in someone you love. Some of the fentanyl symptoms that can come with using this drug, whether by legitimate prescription or otherwise, can include:

  • Euphoria: People who take fentanyl, especially if they’re abusing it or taking high doses, will seem extremely happy at first, and then they will start to seem really drowsy or even confused and depressed as the high wears off.
  • Drowsiness, slurred speech and a sense of confusion are common symptoms of fentanyl use.
  • Sedation, including weakness, coordination and walking problems
  • Pinpoint pupils and slowed breathing may be fentanyl symptoms.

Fentanyl Side Effects

As with other opioids, fentanyl is available by prescription and does have therapeutic benefits in some circumstances. However, even if you’re taking this drug as directed by a doctor, there are still potential side effects.

Some of the most common side effects of fentanyl include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Swelling in the extremities
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Appetite loss

Specifically, side effects from the fentanyl patch can also include skin irritation and itching where the patch is applied to the skin.

Fentanyl Abuse Symptoms

Most of the side effects of fentanyl abuse are difficult to tell apart from the standard side effects of this drug.

However, fentanyl abuse symptoms tend to be more pronounced because people who abuse the drug tend to take high and often incredibly dangerous doses.

Some of the signs of fentanyl abuse include: 

  • Taking fentanyl in a way other than how it’s prescribed by a doctor, such as taking too much or taking it too often
  • Doctor shopping to try and get multiple prescriptions
  • Creating or lying about symptoms to get a prescription
  • Breaking fentanyl patches open and swallowing the medicine, injecting it or making it into a tea and drinking it
  • Buying fentanyl off the street or getting it in any way without a prescription
  • Financial or legal troubles as the person tries to obtain more fentanyl

Fentanyl Addiction Symptoms

Doctors have specific criteria for diagnosing a fentanyl addiction. These criteria are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, or DSM-5. If someone has a fentanyl addiction, they typically have shown at least 2 of the following signs and symptoms over the previous 12 months:

  • Taking larger amounts of fentanyl over a longer period than intended
  • Unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control fentanyl use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining fentanyl
  • Spending much time recovering from fentanyl’s effects
  • Craving for fentanyl
  • Problems meeting deadlines and fulfilling obligations
  • Continued fentanyl use despite recurrent problems
  • Giving up on activities because of fentanyl
  • Using fentanyl in physically dangerous situations
  • Continued fentanyl use despite ongoing problems from fentanyl
  • Needing increased amounts of fentanyl for the same effect as before
  • Experiencing withdrawal when you stop fentanyl

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Fentanyl addiction is considered severe in any circumstance because of the potency of this prescription painkiller. If you’re searching for Colorado fentanyl treatment options, the best choice is an inpatient, residential center. At a residential treatment center for fentanyl addiction, you begin with a medically supervised detox, and then you can move on to the intensive work of overcoming your addiction.

Inpatient treatment works particularly well for fentanyl for a few reasons. The first is that addiction to opioids is a complex disease of the brain with physical side effects, including withdrawal. Both the physical and psychological effects need to be appropriately treated.

There’s also the fact that fentanyl isn’t often the first-line drug a person becomes addicted to. They may be using fentanyl because other prescription opioids or heroin aren’t strong enough, or they may be using fentanyl along with other drugs. Polysubstance addictions need to be treated appropriately.

People with addictions to drugs like fentanyl also often have underlying mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed or untreated, which may have led to the use of drugs to self-medicate. Look for a facility where a dual diagnosis treatment approach is provided, like The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. In these programs, mental health issues can be diagnosed and treated alongside fentanyl addiction for a higher chance of success.

When you check into a fentanyl addiction treatment center, you will begin with a detox plan, which will help make you more comfortable and safe as you go through withdrawal from this opioid. After that, you will begin your individualized treatment plan.

Fentanyl Rehab

Fentanyl addiction is considered a chronic disease, so for many people, the best fentanyl rehab program is one that’s residential and inpatient. There are other options, however, including outpatient fentanyl rehab. This is usually a good option for someone who’s already completed inpatient treatment.

Regardless of whether you opt for inpatient or outpatient fentanyl rehab,  it will consist of a combination of behavioral therapies and, if necessary, medical interventions. Therapies can include group, individual and family sessions.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

The withdrawal symptoms of fentanyl are similar to other opioids, and for most people, the first symptoms begin just a few hours after the last time the drug is used. Some of the worst and most uncomfortable fentanyl withdrawal symptoms will usually begin within about 24 hours. For most people, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms stop within ten days after the drug is used for the last time.

For people who use multiple drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, the withdrawal symptoms may linger for slightly longer and up to 10 days.

Some of the initial fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Pain in muscles or bones
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Jerking leg movements
  • Cravings

For some people, there may be some extended fentanyl withdrawal symptoms that are primarily psychological and mood-related, such as continuing anxiety and insomnia.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

Not every person is going to have the same fentanyl withdrawal symptoms timeline, but in general, this is an overview of what you can expect with this drug:

  • Stage one of the fentanyl withdrawal timeline usually lasts for up to 10 days and starts within 24 hours after the last time someone used the drug. During the first stage, people will have the most severe and difficult symptoms. These can include anxiety, insomnia, sweating and achiness.
  • During stage two of the fentanyl withdrawal timeline, a person may feel a reduced sense of well-being and significant cravings. Stage two of the fentanyl withdrawal timeline can last up to 6 months.

What About Fentanyl Withdrawal After Short-Term Use?

Regardless of how long someone has been using fentanyl, the drug is a potent opioid and should be withdrawn from with medical oversight.

During fentanyl withdrawal treatment, people will usually either follow a course of tapering down or cold turkey withdrawal. Tapering down can involve lowering doses of fentanyl or using drugs like suboxone to lessen symptoms and make withdrawal easier and safer. Cold turkey fentanyl withdrawal can be incredibly uncomfortable and can also lead to problems like dehydration and constipation.

No single taper schedule exists for fentanyl, and your doctor can help you determine what taper schedule is best for you.

Fentanyl Detox in Colorado

So how can you detox from fentanyl? The best thing is to attend fentanyl detox treatment at an accredited facility such as The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, located in Colorado.

There can be complications that occur as you detox from fentanyl, regardless of the form you used. Fentanyl detox symptoms can be uncomfortable, and detox is one of the biggest roadblocks to recovery for a lot of people. Detox from the fentanyl patch or any other type of fentanyl abuse can be successful if you have the right treatment program.

At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, our addiction experts can provide the necessary therapeutic and medical interventions to help mitigate the risk of relapse.


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Kuczyńska, Katarzyna; Grzonkowski, Piotr; Kacprzak, Łukasz; Zawilska, Jolanta B. “Abuse of fentanyl: An emerging problem to face.” Forensic Science International, June 2, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2021.

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