Fentanyl is a useful substance used to treat individuals with chronic severe pain, or are experiencing intense pain following a medical procedure. Often individuals who have terminal cancer are prescribed fentanyl to ease their suffering towards the end of life. Like morphine, fentanyl is an opioid and it works by targeting receptors in a person’s brain, which causes a reduction in the pain that they feel and leads to the user experiencing euphoria.
Fentanyl is significantly more potent than morphine. While it is useful for treating people in extreme pain, it should not be used without the supervision of a healthcare professional.
What Are Some Side Effects of Fentanyl
Long term use of Fentanyl is likely to produce the following effects in an individual:
- Reduced libido
- Unstable mood
- Menstrual problems
- Respiratory problems
Fentanyl has some useful properties for medical treatment. The euphoria and pain relief properties of the substance can be very useful for individuals in extreme pain, or recovering from surgery. However, the possible negative side effects are numerous and include:
- Reduced appetite
- Difficulty speaking
- Low blood pressure
Common Side Effects
Fentanyl effects can vary from person to person based on a person’s body composition, health, how long they have been using fentanyl, the presence of other substance use, the amount taken, and the strength of the fentanyl used. Some of the more common effects include:
- Blue lips, fingernails, and skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle stiffness
Rare Side Effects
Some of the more uncommon side effects to look out for are:
- Burning sensation
- Redness of skin
What is the Effect on the Body
Like all opioids, fentanyl causes a person to feel euphoria and experience a decrease in pain which makes it ideal for treating intense chronic pain. Fentanyl is 80-100 times more potent than morphine, and therefore should be used with caution, only with a doctor’s prescription. One of the more dangerous effects of fentanyl is a reduction in respiratory function. This can lead to hypoxia, a condition where the brain is not receiving enough oxygen. Hypoxia should be taken very seriously and can in some cases lead to coma, permanent brain damage, and death.
If someone who has been using fentanyl is having difficulty remaining conscious and has blue lips, fingernails, or skin, it means that they are not receiving enough oxygen and need immediate emergency medical attention. Call 911.
How Does Fentanyl Affect the Brain
Like all opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to a person’s opioid receptors in their brain. These are the parts of the brain that control pain and emotion. When a person takes opioids such as fentanyl over a period of time, the brain adapts to the presence of the substance. This diminishes its sensitivity of the fentanyl, making it necessary to increase the dose of fentanyl to achieve the same effects. Often this develops into an opioid use disorder where a person prioritizes substance use over all other aspects of their lives.
An infrequent but significant effect of fentanyl use is that a person may experience hallucinations. In a medical setting around 6 percent of patients who are prescribed fentanyl report experiencing hallucinations. However, patients are sometimes hesitant to report the presence of hallucinations for the fear of being assumed to be mentally unsound. The rate at which hallucinations happen due to illicit fentanyl use is unknown, with reported instances being infrequent. Hallucinations will cease with the administration of Naloxone, a medication designed to counteract the effects of opioid use.
The danger of Potential Overdose
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, cause the highest number of overdose deaths in the United States. Between January 2020 and January 2021 overdose deaths involving opioids rose 38.1 percent. Also during this time fatalities involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl rose 55.6 percent. Fentanyl has become a major cause of overdose deaths in the United States.
One of the reasons for this increase in fentanyl-related overdose is that fentanyl is often combined with other substances to make the substance more potent without the buyer, or sometimes even the dealer, being aware. Without a prescription for a substance that is dispensed by a legitimate pharmacy, it is difficult to know exactly what is in a substance, making illicit use increasingly dangerous. Furthermore, without laboratory testing, there is no reliable method to determine the amount of fentanyl that an individual pill contains. The potency of fentanyl makes all of these variables particularly dangerous.
Polydrug use is when a person, knowingly or unknowingly, takes two different substances at the same time. This accounts for many fentanyl overdoses. When fentanyl is mixed with another depressant, such as alcohol, there are significant dangers. A person who uses both substances is likely to pass out, and could be in a coma, or die. Likewise, they could vomit, but not wake up and choke to death. When mixing fentanyl with a stimulant a person will put an increased strain on their heart, and other organs, leading to complications that could be life-threatening over time.
How Can You Cope With the Side Effects of Fentanyl
One of the most effective ways to treat the side effects of fentanyl is by administering Naloxone. Naloxone works by binding rapidly to opioid receptors in a person’s brain and blocking the effects of opioids. Because fentanyl is stronger than other opioid drugs, multiple doses of Naloxone may be required to reverse the effects. If you suspect that someone has overdosed on fentanyl, be sure to use Naloxone to treat them. It will not harm them if they have not been using opioids. Naloxone is provided by the state of Massachusetts at no cost and can be obtained at any pharmacy.
If you suspect that someone has overdosed on fentanyl they need medical attention immediately. Call 911 so that paramedics can assess the condition of the person who has been using fentanyl. If you have not already done so they will administer naloxone and provide other life saving care.
Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction
Learning about fentanyl use disorder and its potential consequences can be scary and seem impossible to beat, but at East Coast Recovery Center, we believe that all substance use disorders, including fentanyl use, are treatable. Often, substance use has roots in feelings of loneliness and isolation, so at East Coast we strive to provide connection to trained staff and to peers in recovery to build a supportive network of individuals that care about your recovery. All care is individualized and designed to meet you where you are and help you reach your recovery goals. Using evidence-based approaches, our team is committed to putting you on the path to wellness.
If you are interested in learning more about treatment at East Coast Recovery Center please call us at (617) 390-8349 to discuss fentanyl treatment options. We believe that substance use is a challenge that you can overcome, let us help you achieve recovery!
FAQs About the Side Effects of Fentanyl
What are the effects of injecting fentanyl?
Along with the usual effects of fentanyl use, injecting fentanyl comes with some unique risks. Some who use this method extract fentanyl from a patch, making it difficult to know the dosage amount. Furthermore, there is the present risk of HIV and other diseases being spread through the use of shared needles.
Can you be affected by fentanyl?
Fentanyl use has a number of unwanted health effects that will cause harm to a person who uses it regularly. The effects vary according to a person’s health, and the amount of fentanyl used, along with the duration of use, but someone who regularly uses fentanyl can expect damage to their organs, respiratory issues, and in some cases death resulting from overdose.
How strong is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is 80 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.