Fentanyl Abuse & Addiction

Fentanyl is an incredibly potent opioid. This Schedule II prescription drug is used for the treatment of severe pain in medical settings, often following surgery or for pain in patients with cancer, and it’s considered 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

In some instances, it may be used to treat chronic pain in opioid-resistant patients.

Fentanyl is known in brand name forms as Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze, and others. On the streets when someone is buying or selling fentanyl it may be known by many names including Apache, China Girl, China White and others. Illicit forms of fentanyl are typically combined with heroin, making them so powerful that people may overdose almost immediately and with a small dose.

When fentanyl is taken as prescribed by a physician, it’s usually given as an injection, or as a patch that goes on the skin. It may also be given in lozenge form. Much of the fentanyl that’s leading to overdoses in places like Denver and throughout Colorado, however, is the result of fentanyl produced illegally. When fentanyl is produced in illegal labs, it’s often made in powder form, or put on blotter paper.

Fentanyl Addiction

Understanding Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl, like other opioids, is addictive. It binds to certain receptors in the brain and central nervous system, and it impacts the areas of the body and brain that regulate and control emotions and pain. When fentanyl binds to opioid receptors, it floods the brain with dopamine, and that is what’s responsible for the high people feel with this drug and other opioids.

Dopamine makes you feel good, and when you take an opioid like fentanyl, your brain’s reward centers also respond.

This is 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 is addictive, and it’s also a drug that can create physical dependence. Physical dependence is different from a psychological addiction, and this occurs when your body becomes so used to the presence of fentanyl that it can’t function normally without it. When this happens and someone stops taking it suddenly they can experience withdrawal symptoms.

Since fentanyl is so potent, addiction can happen very quickly. After taking fentanyl only a few times a person can become addicted to the drug. Because of this and the physical dependence that can occur, the likelihood of an overdose becomes very high.

With a fentanyl overdose, the respiratory system is depressed to the point that breathing stops. If someone takes fentanyl without knowing it, that risk is especially high.

Fentanyl Patch Addiction

Fentanyl patches are given in medical settings as a way to deliver a controlled amount of the painkiller to a patient. These transdermal patches are put directly on the skin, and 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 of the 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, they may inject the gel from the patches, or they may create a tea from the patch.

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

Fentanyl is an increasingly severe problem throughout Colorado. There are many different ways of abusing fentanyl, and many people are even taking it inadvertently without knowing it 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 rural areas.

According to NPR and the Colorado Health Institute, the death rate from overdoses in certain counties has doubled or gone up even more, and rural areas and small cities are seeing problems that are on the same level as the big cities.

Fentanyl Side Effects

As with other opiates, fentanyl is available by prescription and does have therapeutic benefits in some circumstances, but 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:

  • Gastrointestinal problems like constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

Some of the less common side effects of fentanyl that are possible include anxiety, confusion and hallucinations, tingling and depression. Other possible side effects of fentanyl and side effects from the fentanyl patch can include urinary problems, anxiety, fluid retention, and a slow heart rate. Specifically, side effects from the fentanyl patch can also include skin irritation and itching where the patch is applied to the skin.

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 euphoric 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
  • Weakness and coordination and walking problems
  • Pinpoint pupils, slowed breathing, and fainting may be fentanyl symptoms

Other potential fentanyl symptoms may include sleep problems, appetite loss, hallucinations, and dry mouth.

Fentanyl Abuse Side Effects

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

The only differences with fentanyl abuse symptoms are that they tend to be more pronounced and obvious because people who abuse the drug tend to take high and often incredibly dangerous dose:

  • When people are abusing a prescription opioid like fentanyl, they will often doctor shop to try and get multiple prescriptions, or they may create symptoms to get a prescription.
  • Fentanyl patches are prescribed to people as a way to manage chronic around-the-clock pain in a time released way, but unfortunately, it’s common for them to be abused as well. Fentanyl patches can be abused by breaking them open and swallowing the medicine, injecting it, or making it into a tea and drinking it.
  • People who are abusing fentanyl may start to experience financial or legal troubles as they try to obtain more of it.
  • Anytime someone takes fentanyl in a way other than how it’s prescribed by their doctor, such as taking too much or taking it too often, it’s considered abuse.

Fentanyl Addiction Symptoms

With fentanyl, there’s something to consider that isn’t an issue with other opioids. First responders in Colorado and states around the nation have been warned to look out for the symptoms of fentanyl exposure in their coworkers because this drug is so powerful that exposure to even a few specks of it can be harmful.

Fentanyl can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin inadvertently which has become a significant concern in Colorado.

Symptoms of fentanyl exposure can include feeling disoriented, sedation, coughing, and even cardiac arrest.

Because of the risks of fentanyl exposure, first responders are now being trained to wear gloves and masks when they’re handling any substance they’re unsure of.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Fentanyl is considered a severe addiction in any circumstance, just 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 that also has physical side effects, including withdrawal. Both the physical and psychological 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. Polydrug addictions need to be treated appropriately.

Also important when thinking about fentanyl addiction treatment is the fact that people with addictions to drugs like fentanyl also often have underlying mental health issues that have gone either undiagnosed or untreated, and this may have led to the use of drugs as a way to self-medicate. Look for a facility like The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, where a dual diagnosis treatment approach is provided, meaning mental health issues can be diagnosed and treated along with fentanyl addiction.

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 might not necessarily have a severe addiction or 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 12 hours, and for most people, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms stop around 4 to 5 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:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Runny nose
  • Achy muscles

Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal that occur later can include goose bumps, nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea and dilated pupils.

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 one to two days and starts anywhere from 6 to 12 hours after the last time someone used the drug. During the first stage of the fentanyl withdrawal timeline, 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, the symptoms may start to dissipate, and the person is likely to feel more comfortable, but there still may be some minimal symptoms that linger. Stage two of the fentanyl withdrawal timeline usually occurs anywhere from three to five days after the last time a person used the drug.

In general, fentanyl withdrawal symptoms last around five days, although the majority of symptoms appear during days one and two.

What about fentanyl withdrawal after short-term use?

With short-term use, the withdrawal symptoms are likely to begin more quickly after the last time the drug is used because it’s not built up in the body. Also, the symptoms will likely be less severe and the detox period will be shorter for someone who didn’t use fentanyl for a long period unless that person was also abusing other opioids.

During fentanyl withdrawal treatment, people will usually either follow a course of tapering down or cold turkey withdrawal. Tapering down can involve lowering dosages 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 since the drug is stopped so suddenly.

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. The 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, the team understands detox from fentanyl and also the specifics of the fentanyl detox timeline, and can provide the necessary therapeutic and medical interventions to help mitigate the risk of relapse.

Our Colorado facility treats patients from Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and all of the state, as well as patients from around the country.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.