Warning signs and symptoms that indicate the use and abuse of fentanyl, a prescription opioid, including behavioral and physical symptoms. Read more to identify signs of fentanyl use, withdrawal and how to get professional help.

If you’re wondering how you can know if someone is on fentanyl, you likely already have suspicions. Fentanyl has been in the news for the past few years, and is the drug that’s responsible for the death of music legend Prince, and well as countless others throughout the country.

What is Fentanyl?

If you haven’t heard that much about fentanyl, chances are you will as it begins to outpace the use of heroin in the United States. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is anywhere between 50 to 100 times stronger.

Classified as a Schedule II prescription drug, fentanyl is used in medical applications to treat very severe pain, particularly after surgery. It may also be used to treat people who suffer from chronic pain but are tolerant to other types of opioids.

Commonly prescribed brand name forms of fentanyl include Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Like most drugs, fentanyl also goes by a slew of street and slang names including Apache, China White, Dance Fever and many others.

When someone uses fentanyl, as with other opioids, it binds to certain receptors in their brain that control their emotions and pain. It leads to spikes in dopamine, which makes them feel good and leads to a rush of euphoria after taking the drug.

One of the primary reasons fentanyl is so addictive and dangerous is because the brain and body quickly build a tolerance to the drug, and the person using fentanyl must take higher doses to achieve the same result.

While in a hospital fentanyl may be injected, given as a patch, or offered as a lozenge. If someone is using illegal versions of fentanyl it often comes as a pill, powder, or on a piece of blotter paper.

The Rise of People Using Fentanyl

In many states across the country, the use of opioids including fentanyl is rising fast. In the state of Ohio from 2013 to 2014, fentanyl submissions increased 1,043 percent — from 109 submissions up to 1,246. In Florida, in that same period, submissions increased 494 percent.

Among the more than 70,200 estimated drug overdose deaths in 2017, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (other synthetic narcotics), with more than 28,400 overdose deaths.

With so many people using the drug, and overdose deaths occurring more frequently than ever, it’s important to know what the signs and symptoms of what fentanyl use looks like.

What Are the Signs That Someone Is Using Fentanyl?

Some of the signs someone is on fentanyl or abusing fentanyl include:

  • Euphoria followed by depression or confusion
  • Slowed heart rate and breathing
  • Weakness and trouble walking
  • Stiffness of muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Shaking
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching and scratching
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Hallucinations
  • Urine retention
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping problems
  • Swollen arms or legs

While the above are signs of someone taking fentanyl, there are also long-term effects that develop if someone chronically abuses the drug. Some of these include gastrointestinal problems, a weakened immune system and the potential for seizures to occur. With the chronic use of fentanyl, sedative effects may increase over time as well.

You may also notice someone is on fentanyl if they go through behavioral or mental changes including paranoia, social withdrawal, a loss of motivation or other personal changes.

Signs of Withdrawal From Fentanyl

Whether someone takes fentanyl exactly as prescribed by a medical professional, or they abuse the drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it or take a lower dose. These withdrawal symptoms may be a red flag to friends or family members, indicating that someone has a problem with fentanyl and that their body has become physically dependent on it.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with fentanyl include irritability, chills, sweats, insomnia, anxiety and nervousness, agitation and restlessness.

With fentanyl addiction and abuse of other prescription drugs, people may do immoral or illegal things to maintain their addiction. This behavior could involve stealing money or stealing pills either from people they know or even places they might work.

Individuals who abuse fentanyl and other drugs often become incredibly preoccupied with the drug and making sure they get more. This preoccupation can cause them to withdraw from friends and family or form new social groups. People who are on fentanyl and are abusing it may also start to have school or work performance declines.

When someone is on fentanyl, it may begin as a medical treatment, and it may move into a dependency that changes their life. Of course, not everyone who is prescribed fentanyl becomes addicted, but if you suspect someone is abusing fentanyl or showing signs of being dependent on the drug, it’s important to explore available resources to help them. Fentanyl is a dangerous drug on its own, and for many people who abuse it, it may also serve as a gateway to heroin, which is cheaper.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.