Sufentanil, the active ingredient in Dsuvia, is an opioid used primarily in anesthesia. It is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the United States. The drug is not used outside of hospitals due to its dangerously high potency.
Despite the controlled environment to which sufentanil is supposed to be restricted, misuse is possible if it’s illegally diverted from medical use.
Article at a Glance:
- Sufentanil is sold in oral form under the brand name Dsuvia. The drug used to be sold for intravenous use under the brand name Sufenta but is now available as a generic drug only for this purpose.
- Sufentanil is available only in healthcare settings and cannot be obtained at pharmacies.
- The drug is one of the most potent Schedule II opioids available.
- Side effects can include itching, nausea and vomiting.
- Detox and rehab can be helpful in stopping the use of opioids like sufentanil.
Table of Contents
Sufentanil carries a high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence. When used, the drug binds to the mμ opioid receptors found in the central nervous system. When these receptor sites are triggered, dopamine is released. This dopamine can make you feel a euphoric high. When sufentanil elicits a flood of dopamine, it can also create a reward and reinforcement response. That response can give rise to addiction.
Signs that may indicate that someone in your life is addicted to sufentanil include becoming obsessed with finding and taking the drug and losing interest in the hobbies and activities they once enjoyed. Performing poorly or irregularly at school or work or suffering significant financial losses trying to obtain the drug can also point to an addiction.
What is Sufentanil?
Sufentanil, a derivative of fentanyl and marketed under the brand name Dsuvia, is one of the most powerful opioids available approved for use in humans. It is 5 to 10 times more potent than fentanyl and up to 1200 times more potent than morphine.
When given as an injection, it is administered via intravenous or epidural injection. It can be used in conjunction with anesthesia to help women going through labor. It can also be used in some cases to help with anesthesia and pain during major operations. Sufentanil is also available as a sublingual tablet sold under the brand name Dsuvia and used for acute severe pain in healthcare settings.
Doctors may choose to give a person sufentanil when other, less potent painkillers are not strong enough to relieve pain. This can occur if a person has an extreme opioid dependency. When people who are heavily opioid-dependent need surgery, standard doses of opioids may not be strong enough to overcome their high drug tolerance and relieve pain.
Common Side Effects & Risks
Sufentanil may produce side effects for some people. However, these can vary depending on how the drug is given. The most common side effect with the injectable dosage form is itchy skin. Conversely, the most common side effects with the oral version of the drug are nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness and low blood pressure.
Sufentanil doses are carefully titrated according to the unique needs of each person. If too much is given, the result can be a dangerously low respiratory drive.
Sufentanil acts directly on the brainstem, suppressing a person’s innate urge to breathe. The brainstem regulates breathing by reacting to carbon dioxide levels in the blood. When carbon dioxide levels become too high, the brainstem signals for the lungs to breathe. In the event of sufentanil overdose, this mechanism can be disrupted.
The main symptoms of an opioid overdose include slowed breathing, pinpoint pupils and significantly decreased levels of consciousness. Because the drug is limited to use in hospitals, if you suspect a person is overdosing on sufentanil, you should obtain help from a medical professional right away. They will be able to assess the person and give an opioid reversal drug like naloxone if needed.
Sufentanil is not generally used long-term because it is restricted for use in medically-supervised healthcare settings. As a result, a person cannot get a prescription for sufentanil to fill at a local pharmacy. The medication is meant for healthcare settings like hospitals and should be discontinued before a person is discharged. Thus, there is little data on the long-term consequences because this drug is not used long-term.
Like other opioids, sufentanil should not be stopped suddenly or “cold turkey,” as this will greatly increase your risk of experiencing enhanced withdrawal symptoms. Schedule a meeting with your doctor if you no longer want to use sufentanil.
Usually, doctors will lower your dosage slowly, over time, to give the body ample time to adjust to less and less of the medication. This strategy will also help you avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. If you need to remain on an opioid when you are discharged, your doctor may convert you to a less potent opioid.
If you are having trouble managing withdrawal symptoms, you may want to seek a medically assisted detoxification program. This program allows you to safely detox from sufentanil in the presence of medically-trained staff who can answer any questions that you may have about the withdrawal process.
Remember, each person experiences the withdrawal process differently. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Withdrawal symptoms of sufentanil are similar to that of other opioids. They include anxiety, nausea, vomiting, sweating, restlessness, sleeping disturbances, tearing up, runny nose, chills, goosebumps, body aches, stomach cramps and pain in the joints or muscles.
The timeline for sufentanil withdrawal symptoms may vary by person. Little data is available specifically on sufentanil withdrawal. However, in general, withdrawal symptoms can start around the time a person misses the first dose of a drug on which they have become physically dependent. For example, oral sufentanil can be given as often as once an hour. As such, if a person takes the drug once per hour and more than an hour passes without a dose, the person may begin to feel withdrawal symptoms.
Sufentanil Addiction Treatment & Detox
If you begin to suspect that someone in your life is abusing sufentanil, you should seek professional help as soon as possible. This is a very potent medication and should only be used by patients in a hospital setting.
The Recovery Village has many treatment options for people looking to recover from sufentanil addiction or other forms of substance use disorder. Before a person begins treatment with either inpatient or outpatient rehab, they will be required to detox from the medication completely.
Certain medications can be used during opioid withdrawal and detox. These medications have different purposes. Some are only to alleviate specific symptoms, while others can reduce drug cravings. There are also opioid replacement medications, which reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Once a person is detoxed off sufentanil, they can access individual and group counseling sessions and therapeutic recreational activities during their time at The Recovery Village.
Choosing a Sufentanil Rehab Center
Choosing a sufentanil rehab center is an important step in living a happier, opioid-free life. If you are unsure what kind of rehab center is right for you, set up a meeting with your doctor to discuss what features may best help support you as you start your life without opioids.
The center should be appropriately licensed and accredited. A team of medical professionals should staff it, and it should also include mental health assessments and treatments when necessary. It can be advantageous to choose a center that’s part of an addiction treatment facility as well. This allows patients to continue straight into addiction treatment following detox, rather than being transferred somewhere else.
If you or a loved one struggles with a sufentanil addiction, The Recovery Village has life-saving treatment and resources ready for you. Contact us today at our confidential, 24-hour hotline to discuss options that may work for you.
FAQs & Related
- What does sufentanil look like?
Sufentanil comes in two different formulations. The injectable version of the drug comes in small glass ampules, or bottles, of liquid drug. They are labeled with the dosage and indicate if the preparation can be used as an epidural. Again, this is not a drug that would be prescribed for at-home or outpatient use.
The oral tablet version of the drug is a small blue tablet that comes inside a plastic dispensing device.
- How is sufentanil used?
Because it is such a potent opioid, sufentanil should only be administered in a hospital setting. It is not available at local pharmacies.
- How long does sufentanil stay in your system?
The injectable form of sufentanil has a half-life of 164 minutes. Because it can take five half-lives for a drug to leave your body completely, this means that a dose of injectable sufentanil can take more than 13 hours to leave the body. Conversely, sufentanil’s oral form has a half-life of 13.6 hours, meaning a dose of it can stay in your body for almost three days.
The elimination time of sufentanil varies greatly between patients. The patient’s weight, underlying health issues, overall physical health, use of other drugs and central nervous system depressants, and pre-existing opioid tolerance all influence how long it will take for the drug to be metabolized and cleared from the body.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Dsuvia.” October 10, 2019. Accessed August 23, 2020.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Sufentanil Citrate Injection.” December 11, 2018. Accessed August 23, 2020.
College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta. “Oral Morphine Equivalents (OME) & Defined Daily Doses (DDD) in Prescribing Report.” n.d. Accessed August 23, 2020.
Hallare, Jericho; Gerriets, Valerie. “Half Life.” StatPearls, January 30, 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.
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.