Fentanyl is one of the strongest synthetic opiate drugs circulating the country. Fifty to 100 times the potency of morphine, fentanyl is a medication used to relieve chronic pain from diseases such as cancer and acute pain from surgical procedures. It is highly addictive and can be fatal in smaller amounts.
For medical purposes, fentanyl comes in the forms of:
- Transdermal patches
- Nasal spray
- Buccal film
- Intravenous liquid (usually injected in a hospital setting)
- Powder (illicit forms)
These same forms of the drug can be smuggled for recreational use. Fentanyl is also produced as a powder that can be smoked, snorted, injected and absorbed in the mucous membrane orally. It is often used to cut, or dilute, other lethal drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Because it is used recreationally, fentanyl is often provided in higher doses, dangerously increasing the risk of fentanyl overdose and death.
Some prescription brand-names of fentanyl are Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze. Slang references to this drug include:
- China Girl
- China White
- Dance Fever
- Murder 8
- Tango and Cash
Fentanyl is one of the cheaper drugs sold on the street and is frequently used to cut more expensive drugs like heroin and cocaine to increase the potency. However, many people are unaware of the dangerous mix and often overdose. Even prescribed fentanyl medication can prove to be lethal; a speck of powder fentanyl equaling a few grains of salt can kill an adult man.
Reviving overdose victims has grown increasingly difficult. Fentanyl overdose victims sometimes require double the amount of naloxone — an overdose antidote drug — to recover than a heroin overdose victim.
Fentanyl can be used in candy or in a lollipop form. The prescription drug Actiq is the sweet-tasting lollipop version of this substance, often prescribed to cancer patients 16 years of age and older who have already developed a tolerance to other opioid medications. The lollipops are addictive, and prescribed patients are recommended to have no more than 120 lollipops per month.
Actiq comes in solid form on a stick, dissolving slowly in the mouth and absorbed in the mucous membrane. These fentanyl lollipops come in six different microgram strengths:
- 200 mcg
- 400 mcg
- 600 mcg
- 800 mcg
- 1200 mcg
- 1600 mcg
A fentanyl lollipop’s effects are immediate, and fentanyl usually reaches the bloodstream within 20 minutes. Typical high symptoms include instant euphoria, drowsiness and physical relaxation. The high can last up to 12 hours.
If people are new to opioid medication, Actiq could prove to be fatal and cause respiratory depression, a condition reducing the urge to breathe. Frequent Actiq use can also result in extensive dental issues including oral infections, cavities, tooth loss and tooth decay.
Fentanyl is also available in the form of a tablet, recommended predominantly for cancer patients 18 years or older who are tolerant to other narcotic pain medications. Unlike most pills, fentanyl tablets are placed under the tongue and dissolved. Patients are urged to take only what is prescribed because of the tablet’s potency. It should not be used for short-term pain or recreational use.
However, illegally acquired fentanyl pills and tablets are common and doses sold illicitly may be manipulated. This can be lethal because they are often disguised as other prescription drugs including Xanax, Percocet and hydrocodone. Fentanyl pills can be swallowed or crushed and snorted to reach a high.
With fentanyl, the risk of addiction is high, and increased use of fentanyl pills or tablets can increase the likelihood of overdose. This is especially true when used in combination with other drugs.
Fentanyl patches, or transdermal fentanyl, is another common form of this opiate drug. Both brand-name (Duragesic) and generic versions of fentanyl patches exist. Patients using transdermal fentanyl patches as prescribed and people who use the patches recreationally are both at risk of addiction because of the drug’s potency.
The patch is applied to the skin once every three days, and the drug is gradually released into membranes over a period of hours. Due to the time-release design of the patch, effects of fentanyl can last up to 17 hours.
Between the Duragesic patches and the generic brand ones, fentanyl patches come in various doses:
- 12 (delivers 12.5 mcg/hr)
- 25 (delivers 25 mcg/hr)
- 37.5 (delivers 37.5 mcg/hr)
- 50 (delivers 50 mcg/hr)
- 62.5 (delivers 62.5 mcg/hr)
- 75 (delivers 75 mcg/hr)
- 87.5 (delivers 87.5 mcg/hr)
- 100 (delivers 100 mcg/hr)
People who use the drug recreationally extract the drug from the patches and inject it, ingest it or smoke it sometimes in combination with its intended use. Additionally, people also apply heat to the patch to increase the rate of fentanyl absorption, but this practice has been noted to cause overdoses. High doses of fentanyl can result in respiratory depression and sometimes death.
Due to the potency of fentanyl and its addictive nature, fentanyl can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Eliminating the drug cold turkey from a person’s system can be fatal if the person relapses and takes too high a dose. Instead, it’s recommended that people taper off fentanyl.
Common withdrawal symptoms from all forms of fentanyl include:
- Elevated heart rate
- Joint pain
- Runny nose
- Abdominal pain
If you or someone you know faces a fentanyl addiction, do not hesitate in seeking help. Fentanyl withdrawal can prove to be just as dangerous as addiction. Without proper help and support, fentanyl addiction can be fatal.
The Recovery Village and our trained team of medical professionals can help to lead you toward recovery. With our specialized treatment programs, we can offer you an effective and life-changing recovery experience and ample support. Don’t wait another day to seek help. Let us help you recover from fentanyl addiction.
Weber, Lee. “Morphine overdose: How much amount of morphine to OD?” Addictionblog.org, published August 2014.
“Fentanyl Sublingual Tablet.” Drugs.com, published April 2017. Medically reviewed November 7. 2018.
Staff, EMS1. “8 deadly forms of fentanyl.” EMS1.com, published April 27, 2017.
“Fentanyl Transdermal Patch.” Medline Plus, published January 15, 2017.
“DrugFacts: Fentanyl.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, published June 2016.
“Fake Prescription Drugs Laced with Fentanyl.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2016.
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