What is fentanyl addiction?

The prescription drug fentanyl is dangerous and highly addictive. While many fentanyl users begin taking the drug as prescribed, the use can quickly get out of control. Increased usage can lead to addiction and death.

An overdose of fentanyl caused the death of popular music star, Prince.

Fentanyl addiction is part of America’s ongoing epidemic of opioid abuse. As many Americans look for stronger medications to battle chronic pain, doctors continue to prescribe strong opioids like fentanyl to ease their patients’ suffering. Unfortunately, more and more people seem to find themselves unable to walk the thin line between relief and reliance.

In congruence with the prescription opioid epidemic, fentanyl is also being made in covert labs and distributed on the streets. This not only contributes to the difficulty of identifying just how big the problem of fentanyl abuse really is, but also makes determining the best course of action to take in addressing the problem more difficult.

What exactly is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic pain blocker. Its effects on the body are similar to morphine, but up to 100 times stronger. Doctors may prescribe fentanyl for patients struggling with severe, chronic pain or pain endured while recovering from surgery. Doctors also sometimes put patients on fentanyl because they have developed a tolerance to other, less potent opioids.

Fentanyl was designed to emulate the effects of natural opiates, like morphine, by binding to the opioid receptors in the body. By occupying the opioid receptors, fentanyl blocks pain and causes a buildup of dopamine. The dopamine build-up results in a feeling of euphoria. Often the abuse of fentanyl comes from people chasing that euphoric feeling.

Fentanyl can be injected, ingested as a lozenge, snorted, swallowed in pill form, or absorbed through the mouth or skin from blotter paper or a patch.

Prescription fentanyl is known by three common brand names, Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®. Fentanyl can also be purchased on the streets under a wide range of slang nicknames, including those seen below.


Fentanyl is in the family of pharmaceuticals known as opioids. The opioid family includes opiates (opium derivatives of natural poppy plants) and synthetic compounds designed to mimic the effects of opiates. Some of the most well-known opioids are listed below.


Although they vary in strength, all opiates share similar characteristics that make them addictive and potentially deadly.

How to Recognize Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl addiction has the same warning signs as other opioid addictions. According to guidelines published by The National Institute of Health, a good way to identify opioid abuse and/or addiction is to look for behaviors that demonstrate what it calls, “The 3-Cs:” Control, Cravings, and Consequences.

While the mnemonic device of, “The 3-Cs,” is useful, it must be expanded upon to make sense. The more specific meanings for, “The 3-Cs,” are Loss of Control, Craving or preoccupation with use, and Use despite negative Consequences. The publication even lays out potential actions that fall into each category.


If you or someone you love takes opiates and demonstrates these behaviors, get help now.

Health Problems Associated with Fentanyl Addiction


According to the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), 20,034 emergency department visits involved fentanyl, which represents a 104% increase from 2004. That increase is just one indicator of the recent uptick in fentanyl abuse.

The national death toll from fentanyl overdose is not currently known, however indications from statistics available at a state level show a disturbing trend. It even prompted the CDC to distribute an official health advisory in late 2015. According to the CDC report, Florida, Ohio, and Maryland all showed sharp increases in fentanyl-related overdoses in 2014. On average, for those three states, the fentanyl fatal overdose rate rose by 31.9 percent. Massachusetts also reported a large increase, but the specific numbers were not given. Those four states, along with Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Kentucky, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Indiana make up the top ten states for total Fentanyl seizures in 2014.

People desperate for fentanyl may scrape it from used epidural patches and smoke it. That smoke has been known to cause a condition called Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). ARDS has also been found in men over 60 who are non-smokers, but who take fentanyl.

Clearly fentanyl abuse is on the rise in America, but getting exact numbers proves difficult because the data is confounded by the rise in illicit fentanyl production and the frequency with which it is combined with heroin.

How does fentanyl affect the brain?

Fentanyl binds to the opioid receptors in the brain to block pain and increase dopamine. While initially this creates a state of euphoria, continued use creates dependence and addiction. At that point, users will need to take the drug just to keep themselves from feeling sick.


How does fentanyl affect the body?

One of the reasons opioids are so dangerous is because they slow down the user’s heart rate and breathing. In most cases of fatal opioid overdose, the death results from the user’s breathing slowing down so much that it stops entirely. Additional effects of fentanyl on the body include the following.


If caught in time, a person experiencing an opioid overdose can be given the antidote naloxone, which counteracts the effects of the opioid. This is why getting help immediately is so vital. However, while naloxone can treat an overdose it is not a cure for addiction.

Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms

Because fentanyl is one of the strongest and fastest-acting opioids, it also causes some of the harshest withdrawals. Withdrawal symptoms can begin just a few hours after discontinued use. Those symptoms may include the following.


Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be extreme and last for weeks. A professional recovery program including a medical detox can help lessen the severity of some of these symptoms and assist in coping with others.

Financial Costs of Fentanyl Addiction


Opioid abuse creates a huge problem for health insurers. According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, in the United States, “Overall, drug diversion costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion a year from opioid abuse alone.”

As for costs associated with the abuse of fentanyl specifically, a study from 2006 reported the cost of nonmedical use of fentanyl in America to be $30 million. Those costs include substance abuse treatment, medical complications, productivity loss, and criminal justice. As stated previously, all indications show an increase in fentanyl abuse, which means the current cost is likely much higher.

Adding more support for the likelihood that today’s cost of fentanyl addiction exceeds $30 million is the data from DAWN. Based on the number of emergency room visits cited earlier and the average cost of emergency room visits from the Health Care Cost Institute, we can estimate that in 2010, approximately $27.7 million was spent on emergency visits related to fentanyl use. That doesn’t even include the cost of the drug itself.

While fentanyl is less expensive than other opioids, such as heroine, it is also more powerful. This makes quitting exceedingly difficult. With each passing day of continued use, the costs continue to add up.

Social Problems Associated with Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl abuse is a contributing factor to the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic.
While all opioids are addictive and dangerous, fentanyl poses a unique risk within a household environment. One of the common ways fentanyl is administered, the Duragesic transdermal patch, leaves potential for abuse and exposure to kids and pets.

The patch is adhered to the skin and slowly releases fentanyl. The skin absorbs the fentanyl directly. The recommended usage time for the patch is three days, however, at that time the patch still contains half of its original fentanyl content.

Because they still have fentanyl in them, used patches are a health hazard. They can expose children or pets to dangerous levels of fentanyl. They can also lead to abuse by the person using the prescribed patches. People have reportedly steeped their patches like tea or even chewed on them like gum. In fact, used fentanyl patches are so dangerous that the FDA’s recommended method of disposal for used fentanyl patches is to fold them in half and flush them down the toilet. However, this method of disposal is highly controversial. Recent studies have shown that even low concentrations of human drugs can disrupt the biology of marine ecosystems.

In addition to the hazardous used patches, fentanyl poses the same dangers as any highly addictive substance. Once users become dependent on it, they tend to disregard anything and anyone else. They often resort to deception, manipulation, or crime to ensure they get their next fix. Eventually their behaviors may leave them unrecognizable to friends and family.

Request a Call

Submit the form below to receive a call from an treatment specialist

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to get help

Call to speak to a treatment specialist today.

Confidential 100% Confidential