Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction: A Complete Guide

Last Updated: December 18, 2019

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Fentanyl is a popular opioid analgesic, which is highly addictive. People who take Fentanyl for medical reasons can quickly develop tolerance and get addicted to the drug. Obviously, it can also happen with those who want to experiment with its recreational properties. In addition, Fentanyl addiction leads to severe withdrawal symptoms and can cause death. Note that it is more potent than morphine and heroin.

How do People Abuse Fentanyl?

What is a drug? It is one of the strongest opioids that has ever existed. Doctors have prescribed the drug widely as a painkiller. As a result, this makes it an addictive pain medication that a lot of people use. It can be found in different forms:

  • patches
  • films and tablets that dissolve in the mouth
  • lollipops
  • sprays

That might sound harmless, but the truth is that the drug is very potent and it doesn’t matter how it was used: by Fentanyl patches or lollipops. What is more, this opiate has a rapid onset of action, which contributes to its powerful properties. Although the magic characteristics of Fentanyl make the drug an appealing product, dangerous is an understatement. It’s because this drug is more powerful than morphine or heroin. Be that as it may, the drug is still legal.
In addition, the drug has a short duration of effect. Consequently, it makes people go back to the drug over and over again when the pain and withdrawal reappear. In fact, since its first discovery and synthesis in the 60s, it has caused more harm than pain relief.

Why do People Abuse Fentanyl Patches?

As mentioned above, Fentanyl patches are a popular way of administration. Originally, they designed the patches with a gel that contains a certain amount of the drug. However, due to leaky patches, they substituted these patches with ones without the gel. People who have become addicted to the drug and abuse the patches might:

  • Stick more than the proper amount of patches on their body
  • Chew the patches to ingest the gel
  • Dry and smoke the gel
  • Extract the gel and inject it

Fentanyl & Medical Settings

Syringe injectionIt is a powerful analgesic. Usually, doctors prescribe the drug to people who have some tolerance to opiates due to their highly addictive properties. People who use the drug can easily develop tolerance and become addicted to the drug only after a try. This is a very sad fact.

Because they mainly use the drug within medical environments, the setting exposes many health specialists to the risk of addiction. The curiosity killed the cat, right? Sadly enough, anesthesiologists are at a high risk of developing an addiction. This is according to the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal. Unfortunately, it comes with devastating withdrawal symptoms. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea

Many users without any history of abuse and without any attempt to try the recreational value of the drug reveal the addictive properties of Fentanyl.

Distributing Fentanyl On The Streets

Fentanyl can be found not only within medical settings but in the streets as well. There are different street names of the drug that are popular among users. China White and Dance Fever are only a couple of them.
Some people abuse Fentanyl due to its recreational values. At the same time, other users say the drug is “the psychedelic of all opiates.” People report some euphoric experience and some “bliss.” Of course, many individuals admit that like other opiates, it causes sedation and relaxation.

This as a consequence, can be dangerous for the user and the people around them. Common side effects are:

  • Body aches
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Breathing difficulties

When one combines it with other drugs, it can be lethal.

Therefore, if one can’t resist the urge of getting high on the drug, do not mix it with any other substances. Of course, make sure about buying the only pure products. Also, one should learn more about the metabolism of Fentanyl.

Getting Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl is a scary drug, mainly because it’s widely available and lots of people abuse it. There are different addiction treatment programs. Bearing in mind that going cold turkey can be dangerous. Detox and psychological support are crucial. Sometimes, doctors will use other medications such as methadone as a substitute. In conclusion, the drug is very addictive, getting clean and staying sober is possible with a drug rehabilitation.

Page Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Fentanyl. 2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl.
  2. Kuczyńska K., Grzonkowski P., Kacprzak Ł., Zawilska J. B. Abuse of fentanyl: An emerging problem to face. Forensic Science International. 2018; 289: 207-214. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2018.05.042. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29902699.
  3. Gold M. S. et al. Fentanyl abuse and dependence: further evidence for second hand exposure hypothesis. Journal of Addictive Diseases. 2006; 25(1): 15-21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16597569.

Published on: March 15th, 2017

Updated on: December 18th, 2019

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.


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  • Norah Viehman
    My daughter overdosed today. She has been using Fentanyl for about 4 years. We has done outpatient therapy with her before, and she did OK with is until one of her triggers set her spiraling out of control. We had no idea how bad it was. We wanted to believe she had gotten clean and the ex-boyfriend who feeds her a supply was out of her life. Not so. She was letting him live in her car. Her car is covered in Fentanyl. Her room has used capsules (hidden) all over the room. She recently quit her job as a teacher with Special School District, therefore, has no insurance. She does however have 4 year old son who witnessed her overdose today. We need help. Please let me know if you would be able to help her. Thank you, Norah Viehman