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How Addictive is Fentanyl Really?

Fentanyl is extremely addictive. It is more potent than other strong opioids like heroin and morphine.

Fentanyl has legitimate uses, but it is very carefully prescribed. If you abuse fentanyl, you are very likely to grow addicted to it quickly. You are also at serious risk for a fatal overdose.

Why Is Fentanyl Addictive?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid painkiller.

Opioids, as a whole, are an addictive class of drug. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), fentanyl is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin in terms of its analgesic (painkilling) properties.

Fentanyl buccal, a type of fentanyl tablet, is very potent. It is intended for severe pain in cancer patients who are already tolerant to regular doses of strong opioid painkillers like morphine and oxycodone. Doctors who wish to prescribe these tablets to a person in an outpatient program (and by extension allow a patient to go about their day with access to the tablets) must enroll in a special program.

As described by the Mayo Clinic, fentanyl binds to opioid receptors in the brain, which can have a number of effects.

  • Euphoria
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Sedation
  • Problems breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Fentanyl’s extreme potency puts users at serious risk for addiction. The brain grows used to the effects of opioids, becoming more tolerant of them. With chronic use, it is more difficult to feel pleasure without the drug.

Fentanyl is so potent that people have been known to get high by touching it improperly. Emergency responders must be very careful when handling fentanyl, as they can overdose just by handling it.

The drug is usually abused by taking it orally, injecting it, snorting it, smoking it, or by placing a patch under the tongue or on the body.

How Widespread Is Fentanyl Abuse?

While exact numbers on fentanyl use can be difficult to find, fentanyl was involved in 46 percent of opioid deaths in 2016. This claim comes from a 2018 study of that time period. The study found there were 42,249 opioid-related deaths that year, 19,413 of which were from synthetic opioids.

In 2010, only 14.3 percent of opioid overdose deaths were related to fentanyl. This means there has been a massive leap in the popularity of fentanyl among those who abuse drugs.

addiction man

As disturbing as this trend may be, it makes sense. Fentanyl is a hyper-potent opioid. Many people who abuse drugs may see it as the “ultimate” high. As awareness of fentanyl grew, so did interest in abusing it.

Meanwhile, its effect is intense. It is likely many who choose to abuse the drug underestimate it. The incredibly potent high quickly pulls them into addiction. It is this intensity that also makes it so dangerous. When mixed with other drugs, it is easily underestimated, and overdose can rapidly occur.

Fentanyl is often laced into other drugs of abuse, often without the user’s knowledge. People may buy a batch of cocaine or heroin, not realizing that it has been cut with fentanyl. They take their normal dose and quickly experience an overdose.

Fentanyl is so potent that naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, may need to be administered multiple times to save a person. If you have given naloxone to a fentanyl user, monitor them until professional emergency help arrives. It’s likely you may have to administer a second dose of naloxone.

More Addictive Than Morphine and Heroin

Compared to many drugs, fentanyl exists in a sort of category of its own. It is incredibly potent, designed to relieve extreme pain in people who find other opioids ineffective. Of all the drugs you should not choose to abuse, fentanyl is near the top of the list.

This is not to say that heroin and morphine are safe compared to fentanyl. These drugs are also incredibly dangerous and can rapidly lead to fatal overdose.

Medications Used to Treat Withdrawal

Medications will likely need to be used during fentanyl withdrawal. A non-opioid lofexidine has been studied and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for such treatment. Lofexidine is not shown to be addictive.

Other medications, such as buprenorphine and methadone, have long been used in opioid addiction recovery.

An NSS-2 BRIDGE device has also been developed to aid opioid withdrawal. This device sits behind the ear and stimulates nearby nerves. According to the Mayo Clinic, it eases symptoms for up to five days during the acute withdrawal phase when symptoms are most intense. The approximate price is $600.

It may seem counterintuitive to some people to make withdrawal easier by taking medications. Some are of the mindset that a person who is addicted to drugs must pay the price of withdrawal. A larger amount of people are uncomfortable with treating addiction with another drug of any kind, fearing that a user will trade one drug of abuse for another.

The statistics tend not to back up these fears. The more a person struggles with withdrawal, the more likely they are to give up or never attempt to overcome their addiction.

People who use medication-assisted treatment (MAT) tend to have higher success rates than those who do not. MAT should only be used as part of a larger program that also includes comprehensive therapy.

Avoid Addiction

Fentanyl is not a drug that should be taken lightly. It is a potent opioid that can be extremely addictive and can quickly lead to a fatal overdose.