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Dangers of Fentanyl Abuse

Fentanyl is used to treat persistent, severe pain, especially after surgery. Fentanyl, related to morphine, is a Schedule II-restricted substance. It has a legitimate medicinal application when used under the guidance of a registered medical expert. Patients prescribed Fentanyl should watch for signs of unintended use or abuse.

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About Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to relieve severe pain. It has a potency of 50 to 100 times that of morphine. The medicine interacts with brain receptors to alleviate pain and provide relaxation, satisfaction, and pleasure.

Fentanyl is only accessible with a doctor's prescription. It can come as:

  • Patches to be applied on the skin

  • Nasal spray 

  • Tablets and lozenges that melt in the mouth

  • Injectables (Generally only given in healthcare facilities)


While administering Fentanyl in a medical environment is generally safe, some patients misuse it, leading to addiction and overdose.

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Immediate Side Effects of Fentanyl

Fentanyl may linger in your bloodstream for up to 72 hours. After receiving it, you may have adverse effects that impair your thoughts and responses, as well as dizziness or sleepiness. As a result, after taking the drug, do not drive or engage in activities that need you to be alert and attentive. Also, after you've taken fentanyl, don't drink alcohol.


Adverse effects of fentanyl are possible. If any of these symptoms persist or become severe, contact your doctor:

  • Drowsiness

  • Heartburn

  • Changes in vision

  • Depression or anxiety

  • Mouth pain

  • Strange dreams or thoughts

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Difficulty staying asleep

  • Dry mouth

  • Peeing problems

  • Reddening of the face, or upper chest, or neck (that occurs suddenly) 

  • Body shaking.

  • Swelling in lower legs, feet, hands, arms, or ankles

  • Pain in the back or chest

  • Irritation or sores in the location where the doctor put fentanyl patches

  • Loss of weight


Medically Reviewed:


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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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The Risks of Using Fentanyl

There are boxed cautions for this medicine. A boxed warning informs physicians and consumers about potentially serious medication side effects.

Fentanyl has a substantially higher potency than oxycodone and other opioids, whether taken orally via intravenous (IV) injection or mouth. Users who misuse fentanyl may have more severe fentanyl side effects. The risks of this drug include:

Misuse and Addiction

This substance can cause addiction, dependency, overdose, and even death. Before and throughout treatment, a medical professional will evaluate your risk of addiction and abuse.

Fentanyl Causes you to Breathe Slower 


It may result in respiratory problems and even death. Your risk increases if you're elderly, have lung problems, or were given hefty first dosages. The danger increases even more if you combine fentanyl with other drugs that alter your respiratory patterns.

Excessive Heat and Overdose

Minimize the exposure of fentanyl patches to heat after being put on your skin. Heat may result in your body absorbing more of the drug than it should. Exposing fentanyl to heat might lead to an overdose and death in the worst-case scenario.

Fentanyl Withdrawal in Infants

Pregnant women taking this medication for an extended period can cause newborn opioid withdrawal syndrome (OWS). This has the potential to be life-threatening. Symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal in a newborn may include the following:

  • Irritability

  • Vomiting

  • Odd sleep patterns

  • A high-pitched scream

  • Tremors

  • Diarrhea

  • Inability to gain weight 

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Fentanyl Poisoning

When a substance such as fentanyl causes significant side effects and life-threatening complications, it is called an overdose. For example, if you take too much fentanyl, your breathing might become labored or even stop. This may reduce the quantity of oxygenated blood reaching the brain, a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia may cause a coma and irreversible brain damage.

In a nutshell, the following are early indicators of fentanyl poisoning:

  • Sleepiness

  • Breathing problems (it often sounds like snoring)

  • Inability to respond to pain

  • Breathing slowly and shallowly

  • Skin that is chilly and clammy


Fentanyl's most hazardous adverse effect is that it may make you stop breathing, which can result in death.

Other Risks to Note

Keep all of your doctor's visits. Allow nobody to use your medicine, even if they have the same complaints as you. It is illegal to sell or give away fentanyl since it may cause severe injury or death to others.

The drug is generally a one-time prescription that cannot be refilled easily. Therefore, make frequent checkups with your physician to avoid running out of it prematurely.

Keep a documented note of all your prescribed pharmaceutical (and nonprescription over-the-counter) medications. Also, keep a list of any minerals, vitamins, or other nutritional supplements you take. If you see a specialist or are admitted to a health facility, you should carry this list and show it to the medical staff.

The Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey

A person should not try to quit taking drugs abruptly. The opioid withdrawal process is very unpleasant, and suddenly ceasing to take the drug may result in severe, if not fatal, withdrawal symptoms. Instead, let a professional manage the detox. They may decide to use substitution treatment if the addiction is chronic and with severe withdrawal.

Substitution treatment medications like codeine, Suboxone, or methadone will be provided to suitable clients in rehab facilities that provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT).


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The Bottom Line

Fentanyl can become addictive, mainly when used for lengthy periods. Fentanyl should be used as indicated. Please do not take a higher dosage of fentanyl, take it more often, or take it for a longer length of time than your physician has advised. Discuss your pain control objectives, duration of treatment, and alternative approaches to control your pains with your doctor while taking fentanyl.


Inform your healthcare provider if you or anyone in your family:

  • Is battling an alcohol use disorder

  • Is addicted to illicit substances

  • Is addicted to prescription medicines

  • Has a history of overdoses

  • Has depression or anxiety, or any other mental illness


If you have or have a loved one grappling with these issues, the chances of misusing fentanyl are high.

If you suspect you have an opioid addiction, go to your doctor immediately, ask for advice, or contact Rolling Hills Recovery Center to discuss possible treatment options.

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About fentanyl
Immediate side effects of fentanyl
The risks of using fentanyl
Fentanyl poisoning
Other risks to note
The dangers of quitting cold turkey
The bottom line
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