Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

Fentanyl Abuse: Your Guide to the Deadliest Form of Opioid Abuse

What is Fentanyl Abuse Like?

Fentanyl abuse is one of the deadliest form of substance abuse there is. Potent, lethal, and often sold as other drugs, fentanyl overdoses are lethal.

Let’s be clear: no form of drug addiction is safe.

Fentanyl is much less so. In 2021, it may have played a role in nearly 71,000 deaths in the United States. Every day, over 150 people die from fentanyl.

It’s 50–300 times stronger than morphine. While highly effective at controlling severe chronic pain, this synthetic opioid painkiller has developed an infamous reputation:

Namely, it’s one of the chief drivers of the overdose epidemic.

Fentanyl abuse has been rising in recent years, particularly in North America. In the United States, for example, fentanyl has become a major contributor to the opioid epidemic, which has led to a significant increase in overdose deaths.

In addition, illicitly manufactured fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, making fentanyl abuse even more dangerous and unpredictable.

Fentanyl by the Numbers:

The CDC estimates state that 107,375 Americans died from drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the year that ended in January 2022. Synthetic opioids like Fentanyl were involved in a shocking 67 percent of the fatalities.

Fentanyl Abuse: What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid first developed in the 1960s as a pain medication and anesthetic. It is a highly potent painkiller, about 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl works by binding to the body's opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing pain perception and producing pleasure and euphoria.

Fentanyl is used medically to manage severe pain that other medications cannot relieve. It is typically administered via injection, transdermal patch, tablet, or nasal spray. Fentanyl is commonly used during surgical procedures to provide anesthesia. It may also be used to manage chronic pain in cancer or sickle cell disease patients.

However, fentanyl can also be highly addictive and carries a high risk of overdose. When taken in high doses, fentanyl can cause respiratory depression, which can be fatal. In addition, illicitly manufactured fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, making it even more dangerous and unpredictable.

The use of Fentanyl has become a significant public health issue in many countries, including the United States and Canada, where it has contributed to a significant increase in overdose deaths. As a result, efforts are being made to address the fentanyl epidemic through various strategies, such as increasing access to addiction treatment, expanding access to overdose-reversal medications such as naloxone, and cracking down on illicit drug trafficking.

Fentanyl Abuse: How Does Fentanyl Work?

Fentanyl binds to the body's opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. These receptors are part of the body's natural pain management system and are activated by naturally occurring substances, such as endorphins. When opioid receptors are activated, they produce various effects, including pain relief, sedation, and feelings of pleasure or euphoria.

Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that binds to opioid receptors with a high affinity, meaning that it binds to the receptors more tightly than other opioids, such as morphine. This strong binding affinity allows fentanyl to produce a more intense and long-lasting effect than other opioids, which makes it practical for managing severe pain.

Fentanyl primarily binds to the mu-opioid receptors, the most abundant opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Activation of the mu-opioid receptors by fentanyl leads to various effects, including pain relief, sedation, and euphoria. fentanyl can also bind to other opioid receptors, including the delta- and kappa-opioid receptors, which can produce additional effects.

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Fentanyl Abuse: How Does Fentanyl Affect the Brain?

In addition to its effects on opioid receptors, fentanyl can also affect other neurotransmitter systems in the brain. For example, fentanyl can increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in feelings of pleasure and reward. This dopamine release is thought to be a significant contributor to the euphoric effects of fentanyl, as well as its addictive potential.

Fentanyl Abuse: Why Is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

However, because of its potency, fentanyl carries a high risk of overdose and addiction. When taken in high doses, fentanyl can cause respiratory depression, which can be fatal. Additionally, long-term use of fentanyl can lead to the development of tolerance, which means that higher and higher doses are needed to achieve the same effect. Tolerance can also lead to physical dependence, which means that the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and will experience withdrawal symptoms if the drug is suddenly stopped.

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Fentanyl Abuse: How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in the Body?

The length of time that fentanyl stays in the body can vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the person's age, weight, metabolism, dosage, frequency of use, and other individual characteristics. These factors have been explained in detail below.

  • Dosage: The amount of fentanyl taken can affect how long it stays in the body. Higher doses may take longer to clear from the system.

  • Frequency of use: The more frequently Fentanyl is used, the longer it may take to leave the body.

  • Age and weight: Older individuals and those with a higher body weight may process fentanyl more slowly, resulting in a longer duration of action and a longer time to clear the drug from the body.

  • Metabolism: How an individual's body metabolizes fentanyl can also affect how long it stays in the body. Some people may process the drug more quickly than others.

  • Other individual characteristics: Other factors, such as liver and kidney function, can also affect how long fentanyl stays in the body.

What Is the Half-Life of Fentanyl?

Fentanyl has a relatively short half-life of approximately 3-4 hours, meaning it takes that much time for the body to eliminate half of the drug. However, fentanyl can take several days to clear completely from the body.

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Fentanyl Abuse: Fentanyl and Drug Tests

How long does fentanyl stay in the system? In general, fentanyl can be detected in urine for up to 3 days after the last use, while it can be detected in blood and saliva for up to 24 hours after the last use. It may be detectable in hair for a longer time, up to several months after use.

What Are the Signs of Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction?

Fentanyl is a drug that is used to treat severe pain. When used as prescribed under the guidance of a healthcare professional, Fentanyl can provide effective pain relief. However, the drug also has a high potential for abuse and addiction and can cause serious health consequences when misused.

The signs of fentanyl abuse can vary depending on the individual and the drug's specific use. However, some of the most common symptoms of fentanyl abuse include the following:

Behavioral Changes

Individuals abusing fentanyl may display changes in their behavior or mood, including increased agitation, mood swings, and irritability. They may also withdraw from social activities and hobbies they once enjoyed.

Physical Symptoms

Fentanyl abuse can cause various physical symptoms, including constricted pupils, drowsiness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and dry mouth.

Cognitive Impairment

It can cause cognitive impairment, including impaired judgment, memory loss, and difficulties with decision-making and problem-solving.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Individuals dependent on fentanyl may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using the drug. These symptoms can include sweating, restlessness, muscle aches, insomnia, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms.

Opioid Overdose

Fentanyl is a highly potent drug, and even small amounts carry a serious risk of overdose. Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose can include slowed breathing, unconsciousness, and even death.

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What Are the Side Effects of Fentanyl Addiction?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is used medically for pain relief. Fentanyl is much more potent than other opioids, such as morphine or heroin, and can quickly lead to overdose and death, even in small doses. In addition, when misused or abused, Fentanyl can have serious and potentially deadly side effects.

Here are some of the most common side effects of fentanyl abuse:

  • Respiratory depression: Fentanyl can slow breathing, leading to oxygen deprivation and potentially life-threatening respiratory failure.

  • Nausea and vomiting: It can cause severe nausea and vomiting, leading to dehydration and other complications.

  • Dizziness and confusion: It can cause lightheadedness and confusion, impairing a person's ability to make good decisions and perform daily activities.

  • Decreased blood pressure: Fentanyl can cause a drop in blood pressure, leading to dizziness and fainting.

  • Seizures: Fentanyl abuse can cause seizures, particularly in individuals with a pre-existing seizure disorder.

  • Digestive issues: Constipation can slow down the digestive system, leading to constipation and other gastrointestinal problems.

  • Cardiovascular problems: Drug abuse can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke.

  • Increased risk of overdose: Fentanyl is highly potent, and it can be accessible to overdose accidentally, especially if combined with other substances.

  • Cognitive impairment: Long-term fentanyl abuse can cause cognitive impairment, including problems with memory, attention, and decision-making.

  • Depression and anxiety: It can lead to depression and anxiety, exacerbating existing mental health conditions.

  • Liver damage: Fentanyl abuse can cause liver damage, potentially leading to liver failure and other serious health problems.

  • Withdrawal symptoms: Fentanyl is highly addictive, and users can experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using it. These symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and bone pain, and intense cravings.

  • Increased risk of infectious diseases: People who abuse Fentanyl may be at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis due to sharing needles.

  • Social and legal problems: Fentanyl addiction can lead to various social and legal problems, including strained relationships, job loss, financial difficulties, and criminal charges related to drug use.

It's important to note that fentanyl abuse can have many other potential side effects and complications. The risks can be even higher if combined with other drugs or alcohol.

Withdrawal From Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl can lead to physical dependence and addiction when used for a prolonged period. When someone addicted to fentanyl stops using it, they will experience a withdrawal phase as their body adjusts to the absence of fentanyl.

Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl can start as soon as a few hours after the last dose of fentanyl and can last for several days or even weeks. The intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the individual's level of dependence, the amount of Fentanyl used, and how long the addiction has been present.

Some common symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Muscle aches and pains

  • Insomnia and disturbed sleep

  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

  • Dilated pupils and teary eyes

  • Sweating, chills, and goosebumps

  • Rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure

It's important to note that fentanyl withdrawal can be very uncomfortable and even dangerous in some cases, particularly for individuals with a severe addiction. However, medical detoxification and addiction treatment programs can provide medications, counseling, and other support to help manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.

Recovery From Fentanyl Abuse

Recovery from fentanyl abuse can be a long and challenging process, but it is possible with the right support and resources. 

The following are some steps that can be taken to aid in the recovery process:

Medical Detoxification

Before starting the treatment, the first step is to detox from Fentanyl safely. This should be done under the guidance of a medical professional in a supervised setting. The medical professional can monitor the patient's vital signs, administer medication to manage withdrawal symptoms, and ensure that detoxification is as safe and comfortable as possible.

Counseling and Therapy

The next step is to engage in counseling and therapy, which can help the individual understand the underlying causes of their addiction, develop coping mechanisms, and prevent relapse. Therapy can be done individually or in a group setting.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a combination of medication and behavioral therapy that can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and improve the chances of successful recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups can provide peer support and accountability to individuals in recovery from fentanyl abuse.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management techniques can help support recovery and improve overall physical and mental health.


Recovery is an ongoing process, and it is important to continue seeking support and resources even after the initial treatment period is complete. Aftercare programs such as continuing therapy, support groups, and relapse prevention planning can help maintain long-term recovery.

Recovery from fentanyl abuse can be challenging, but with the right support and resources, it is possible to achieve long-term sobriety and a healthy, fulfilling life.

Fentanyl Abuse Is Lethal. The Edge Treatment Center Can Save Your Life

There’s no other way to say it left untreated, fentanl abuse is lethal. It’s simply a matter of time before it causes an overdose, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Fentanyl abuse also takes away everything from a person: their friends, their job, their possessions, and more. Fortunately, it’s treatable.

The Edge Treatment Center has years of experience helping people rebuild their lives free from opioid abuse. Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our serene, welcoming, and non-judgmental drug rehab is the ideal place for recovery. Offering cutting-edge addiction science and evidence-based treatment, our drug rehab offers a unique environment formed around community connection.

With us, you or a loved one will have every resource they need to leave fentanyl behind and enter a new life where drug overdose isn’t a factor. If you’d like to learn more about fentanyl abuse and how we can successfully treat it, reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Opioid Addiction

September 27, 2023