Fentanyl is an extremely powerful narcotic painkiller, about 1000 times stronger than heroin. It is so strong that it is dangerous to even to handle, and is only prescribed for cancer patients or within hospital settings.
Fentanyl was discovered in 1968 when scientists were hoping to synthesize a less addictive form of heroin. Fentanyl, however, proved to be even more addictive than heroin or morphine, and is highly regulated (Schedule II Controlled Substances); it is considered highly addictive and is to be used only under controlled circumstance and by doctors’ prescriptions. Its most common use is for “breakthrough” pain in cancer patients, that is, pain that cannot be relieved any other way. It is prescribed to people who are taking other opioid or narcotic drugs or who are otherwise known to be tolerant of them.
Because fentanyl is so potent, it has caused many accidental deaths. Side effects are similar to other narcotics: drowsiness, headache, constipation and dizziness. Some people get tremors in their extremities. Fentanyl is widely abused and is trending upwards in popularity. People who abuse it sometimes smoke or snort it, further increasing their risk for overdose.
The first time people abuse fentanyl they feel euphoria, warmth, relaxation and a dreamlike state that can last for hours. Gradually they build up a tolerance to the drug, and need a higher dose to achieve the same effects, but here is when it gets dangerous. A full dose of fentanyl is smaller than a grain of salt — it is therefore very easy to use too much, go into a respiratory arrest and die.
A person addicted to fentanyl will experience severe withdrawal symptoms similar to those associated with heroin, morphine, codeine and other opioid drugs. Symptoms are similar to severe flu:
- runny nose
- watery eyes
- muscle and back pain
- goose bumps
- stomach cramps
The first 72 hours are usually the worst, although medications are available to ease the symptoms. If the addiction has been long-term, the person may need treatment in a residential center. People abusing fentanyl often abuse heroin too.