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What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a prescription medication that belongs to the opioids drug class. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which means it was made in a lab to produce similar effects in the brain to opiates. Fentanyl has effects that are similar to morphine, but it’s 50 to 100 times more potent.1 The main reason why fentanyl is prescribed is for severe pain, especially after surgery. This drug may also be prescribed to treat pain in cases where tolerance to other opioids has developed.
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by brand names such as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. This drug is also used illegally for recreational purposes due to the high it can create. Common street names for this drug are:

  • Apache
  • Dance Fever
  • Friend
  • Goodfellas
  • Jackpot
  • Murder 8
  • Tango & Cash.

Fentanyl is considered to be a schedule II-controlled substance because it does have medical uses, but it also has a high risk of addiction.

History of Fentanyl

Fentanyl was created in 1959 by Dr. Paul Janssen.2 Since it produced effects that were up to 100 times stronger than morphine, Fentanyl was quickly adopted into medical use to treat severe pain. In 1972 Fentanyl was approved for use in anesthesia. It was right after this time that the first reports of misuse of the drug were reported.

Since then, more ways of using fentanyl were developed such as the fentanyl patch known by the brand name Duragesic. The fentanyl patch showed that it was very useful in treating chronic pain, but it also increased the number of ways the drug could be abused. Over the past 2 to 3 decades, as more ways of using the drug have been developed, there has also been an increase in the number of people using this drug illegally.

There has also been an increase in fatal fentanyl overdose due to misuse by patients, inappropriate prescriptions by clinicians, and increased illegal production and distribution of the drug.

How Do People Use Fentanyl?

In its prescription form, it can be used by receiving a shot, a fentanyl patch that is put on the skin, or lozenges that are like cough drops. When it is bought and sold illegally, it may come in a powder, be dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other opioids. Illegal use of this drug can be especially dangerous since some drug dealers will mix it with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, meth, and MDMA to make it cheaper.

There has also been an increase in fatal fentanyl overdose due to misuse by patients, inappropriate prescriptions by clinicians, and increased illegal production and distribution of the drug.

Deaths and Other Costs of Fentanyl

Why Is It So Dangerous?

The main danger of fentanyl is its potency. Fentanyl is known to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine and just a small dose can have a large effect. When taken illegally, fentanyl’s side effects can be even more dangerous as the doses and production won’t be regulated like it is in a medical setting. Many drug dealers also combine fentanyl with other drugs which makes it even more dangerous. 

Since this drug only takes a small dose to create strong effects, it is often combined with drugs such as heroin to make them cheaper. Some people may buy drugs illegally and not know that fentanyl is combined with them. This can lead to a fentanyl overdose as someone may take a larger amount than their body can handle.

How Many People Does Fentanyl Kill?

Fentanyl abuse and addiction can affect life in many different ways. Fentanyl side effects can be dangerous, and abuse of this drug can lead to addiction and even overdose. Statistics have shown that fentanyl deaths are increasing. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Over 31,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2018.”3 This was a 10% increase from the number of deaths in 2017.

These numbers show the dangers of these drugs. Fentanyl deaths occur far too often. This is why these drugs should only be taken when medically prescribed and under the strict guidelines of a medical professional.

Famous People Killed by Fentanyl

  • Mac Miller – Overdosed on a combination of fentanyl, cocaine, and alcohol on September 7th, 2018.4
  • Lil Peep – Overdose from a combination of fentanyl and Xanax on November 15th, 2017. Multiple sources have reported that he didn’t know that the Xanax he took was laced with fentanyl, which led to him accidentally taking a lethal dose of fentanyl.4
  • Prince – Died of an overdose on counterfeit Vicodin that had been laced with fentanyl on April 21st, 2016.4
  • Tom Petty – Died of an accidental drug overdose on October 2nd, 2017. An autopsy showed that he had three kinds of fentanyl, along with oxycodone, temazepam, alprazolam, and citalopram, in his system.4
  • Jay Bennett – Died of a fentanyl overdose on May 24th, 2009.4

Fentanyl Side Effects

Short-Term Effects

People who use fentanyl illegally report that the effects of this drug come on quicker and more intensely than a drug like heroin. This means that the adverse short-term effects can be intense. Common short-term effects of this drug include:

Long-Term Effects

When used over a long period, fentanyl can have many dangerous effects on the mind and the body. A common long-term effect of fentanyl abuse is brain damage because fentanyl use depresses the functions of the respiratory system, leading to a lack of oxygen traveling to the brain. Repeated use of this drug over a long time can cause damage in the brain that is similar to dementia.

Other long-term fentanyl side effects are chronic depression, pain, and the inability to feel pleasure from things that would normally cause happiness. Someone with an addiction to fentanyl may also complain that they always feel like their mind is foggy or they’re feeling under the weather. These negative symptoms can go on for months or years without realizing it the drug that is damaging their body.


Many fentanyl deaths occur due to overdose. This is a very dangerous drug since it is very potent. At times, this drug is unknowingly laced with other substances which can be very dangerous as it can lead to someone accidentally taking a lethal dose of fentanyl. Many fentanyl overdose deaths occur every year. This is why this drug must be only taken in recommended doses when prescribed by a medical professional.


Fentanyl can be both physically and psychologically addictive. This can lead to numerous fentanyl withdrawal symptoms occurring when it suddenly stops being taken. These symptoms can be very intense and can lead to relapse. This is why it’s important to undergo treatment when experiencing fentanyl withdrawal symptoms. Common fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

When someone is experiencing addiction, it isn’t always easy to spot the exact symptoms. However, there are common signs and symptoms you can look for. Signs and symptoms of fentanyl addiction may be physical, mental, or behavioral.

Physical Changes

Common physical changes that could show an addiction include:

Mental or Behavioral Changes

Symptoms of addiction may also show in behavior or changes in thinking. Common mental or behavioral side effects of addiction are:

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Fentanyl addiction can have many adverse effects, so it must be treated by professionals. There are many resources available and ways to treat addiction to get support, get sober, and maintain sobriety long term.

Inpatient Drug Rehab

Inpatient treatment is a common way to treat addiction. Inpatient treatment is when you live at a treatment center for a period of time. A treatment center can provide a clean living environment away from temptations, with around the clock medical support, and therapy to work on any underlying issues that lead to drug use. Treatment centers can also help you develop coping mechanisms for maintaining sobriety long term.


Drug detox is a necessary part of the treatment process. When physical or psychological dependence has developed to a substance, withdrawal symptoms will occur. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can be intense and it’s important to have the right support system around during that time to get through the detox process as easy as possible.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

At times, medication-assisted treatment may be used to help with the detox process and ease the withdrawal symptoms. Common medications that may be prescribed to help with fentanyl withdrawal symptoms are Methadone, Suboxone (buprenorphine), and VIVITROL.

Outpatient Drug Rehab

Outpatient drug rehab may be used at times when it’s important to stay living at home, to be near family during the treatment process. Outpatient rehab involves going to a treatment center at designated times to treat the addiction. While this can be a good route for some people, it is important to be committed to the recovery process and maintaining consistency for outpatient treatment to work effectively.


Behavioral therapy is often a good idea as part of a treatment program. A behavioral therapist will work with you to build behaviors that can help you achieve your personal goals.  Therapy will also help discover any underlying issues that may be causing the drug use and provide coping mechanisms that help deal with the stresses of life while maintaining sobriety.

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