Fentanyl Addiction and Relationship to Other Opioids

A new drug is sweeping the nation, one that is creating an overdose epidemic. It is often prescribed by doctors and is sold on the street as well. It’s made its way into other drugs; these laced drugs are now the number one cause of overdose in the United States. This new drug is called Fentanyl. Fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug because when compared to other opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, and morphine to Fentanyl, Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent (1), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

addiction fentanyl

So is Fentanyl addictive? Yes, and when comparing opioids like morphine to Fentanyl, Fentanyl can be more addictive since it can have stronger effects when taken intravenously or by mouth. (2) This is why Fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug because when users take it, they feel its potency. But if Fentanyl is so dangerous, why are people continuously taking it to the point of overdose and addiction? What are some of the other comparisons of morphine to Fentanyl users need to look out for? And just how and why is Fentanyl addictive next to other drugs?

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat chronic cancer pain, nerve damage, back injury, major trauma, and surgery post-op pain. Medicinally, it’s available in many forms. In transdermal patch form it’s called Durogesic and APO-fentanyl. Some people take it like a cough drop you suck on, which are called lozenges and sold under the name Actiq. Lastly, it can be taken intravenously, under the name Sublimaze and B.Braun Fentanyl (3). Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and is also produced on the black market.

Opioids, from morphine to Fentanyl, “work by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. After taking opioids many times, the brain adapts to the drug, diminishing its sensitivity to the substance, making it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the drug.” (4) There are many side effects of Fentanyl, including, confusion, sedation, nausea, drowsiness, extreme happiness, constipation, problems breathing, and unconsciousness. 

Why is Fentanyl Especially Dangerous?

Illegally, it’s sold in powder form, dropped onto blotter paper, placed in nasal sprays and eye droppers, or made into pills that resemble other opioids. This is one reason why fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug because it is commonly used by drug dealers to be sold off as other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, or oxycodone. Another reason fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug is because dealers put it into other drugs that normally wouldn’t be as deadly, to make low-grade drugs pass as high-grade. As mentioned, when comparing opioids such as morphine to Fentanyl, Fentanyl is more potent.

This means that if you take a larger amount of morphine to Fentanyl in a smaller dose, you will feel the effects of Fentanyl more than the morphine. Since it takes a small amount of Fentanyl to get high, this makes Fentanyl a cheaper and more lucrative drug to sell for dealers. With the stigma against Fentanyl, most people aren’t actively out to buy the drug. But they unexpectedly end up taking the drug when it’s sneaked into other drugs like cocaine or heroin. Due to this reality, Fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug because it looks and mimics other drugs that people are seeking out. 

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Is Fentanyl Addictive?

Fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug because like some other opioids, it is given to people by doctors, people they trust. So the question “is Fentanyl addictive?” might not cross a patient’s mind when starting to take the drug. But when abused, Fentanyl is most definitely addictive. Why is Fentanyl addictive, and why is it causing such a widespread overdose and addiction problem? It starts with how it is being misused. Fentanyl is known for its high potency, so someone who is even taking a small amount that is prescribed by a doctor can experience dependency. Now, becoming dependent on a drug does not mean they are addicted to the drug, but it can certainly lead to an addiction.

Addiction occurs when one continues to use a drug despite going through health problems, relationship problems, or mental problems. So why is Fentanyl addictive compared to other prescribed drugs? Because it doesn’t take a lot to get high, and its effects are extremely lasting. It blocks out pain and can treat pain from other sorts of cancers and diseases that other drugs can’t do. Another answer to the question “is Fentanyl addictive” is the fact that Fentanyl use can lead to withdrawal symptoms. According to American Addiction Centers, some of these withdrawal symptoms are: 

  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Pounding in the ears
  • Chest tightness
  • Mood changes
  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Abnormal thoughts
  • Opening a fentanyl patch to eat its gel beads
  • Buying fentanyl illegally from people who may have a lawful prescription
  • Showing fear at the prospect of not having access to fentanyl (5)

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Since these symptoms are very hard to deal with, it’s common that once people experience these symptoms, they won’t want to stop taking Fentanyl. This can lead to an overdose from Fentanyl, which in many cases means death. Fentanyl use and overdose is currently running rampant through the nation, and it’s important that people seek alternatives to Fentanyl, or if you are currently using Fentanyl, to stick to the prescribed amount the doctor has written for you. If you are in the midst of a Fentanyl addiction, seeking help is always an option. There are support groups that specialize in narcotic and opioid addiction, as well as detox programs and treatment centers that help one get over a Fentanyl addiction.

References:

  1. Fentanyl DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (nih.gov)
  2. Fentanyl FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) (alberta.ca)
  3. Fentanyl DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (nih.gov)
  4. Fentanyl – Alcohol and Drug Foundation (adf.org.au)