In 2017, fentanyl was the 250th most prescribed medication in the United States, with nearly 1.8 million prescriptions issued. In 2016, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 228,000 Americans aged 12 and older — 0.1% of the population — reported misusing fentanyl within the past year. Non-medical use of fentanyl has increased in recent years, partly due to an increase in the supply of non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, which is fentanyl made in illegal drug laboratories.
Fentanyl is a powerful pain reliever that is approximately 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It’s typically used to control severe pain after surgery. Fentanyl is also used to relieve chronic pain in people who have developed a tolerance to other pain medications. In pediatric settings, fentanyl is only approved for use in children over the age of two, when it’s used immediately before, during, or after surgery; however, some hospitals engage in off-label use of fentanyl for children in pediatric ICUs.
Non-medical users typically misuse fentanyl because it produces feelings of extreme happiness and causes other desirable effects.
Although fentanyl is effective for relieving pain, long-term use of this substance is associated with many undesirable side effects, including respiratory depression and an increased risk of death due to unintentional overdose.
This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of fentanyl use, as well as an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for fentanyl addiction based on current research and publicly available statistics.
In some cases, usage statistics are derived from general prescription opioid use, which includes morphine, hydrocodone, codeine, and tramadol.
Primary Fentanyl Dangers
Addictiveness: In one study, researchers analyzed 20 substances to determine their addictive potential. The substances analyzed include heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis, and barbiturates. After taking into account the potential for both physical harm and social harm, and the risk of dependence associated with each substance, the researchers determined that heroin has the highest addictive potential of the 20 substances studied. Like fentanyl, heroin is a powerful opioid that can help the user relax and produce feelings of euphoria. Therefore, this study demonstrates the high potential for abuse associated with fentanyl and other opioids.
Risk of overdose: In 2017, more than 28,000 Americans overdosed on synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of these overdose deaths occurred because fentanyl was mixed with cocaine or heroin. If fentanyl is mixed into another drug without the user’s knowledge, the risk of overdose increases.
Unintended side effects: Fentanyl can cause serious side effects, especially in chronic users and users who don’t take it as prescribed. These side effects include hallucinations, seizures, dizziness, changes in heart rate, and allergic reactions. Fentanyl can also cause respiratory depression, which makes a person’s breathing slower and less effective. Users with respiratory depression may experience shallow breathing, difficulty breathing, confusion, or fainting.
Legal risks: Due to its high potential for abuse, fentanyl is a Schedule II drug. Possessing fentanyl without a valid prescription is a criminal offense punishable by fines, court-ordered drug treatment, and/or jail time.