Fentanyl Addiction: The Most Deadly Opioid

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has FDA approval for treating complex pain conditions or severe pain following surgery.

Over the past decade, fentanyl has been made in labs and distributed illegally. This product is referred to as illicitly manufactured fentanyl. As fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have made their way into the drug supply, there has been a sharp increase in fentanyl addiction and fatal overdoses involving this drug.

Continue reading to discover why fentanyl is one of the most addictive opioids and how to treat fentanyl addiction to maximize the chances of sustained recovery.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is structurally similar to morphine. Fentanyl is many magnitudes stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

You can find prescription fentanyl in branded formulations that include:

  • Duragesic
  • Actiq
  • Sublimaze

Fentanyl was originally synthesized to manage severe pain. The fully synthetic opioid is still prescribed for the treatment of severe pain following surgery and is sometimes indicated to treat chronic pain in those who are tolerant to opioids. Due to the short elimination half-life of fentanyl, the substance is ideal for the purposes of analgesia and sedation.

Classified as a Schedule II controlled substance, fentanyl has legitimate medical utility, but the substance also has a strong potential for abuse and addiction. Other Schedule II substances include cocaine, meth, and the ADHD stimulant medications Adderall and Ritalin.

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that synthetic opioids like fentanyl were implicated in over 80,000 of the 106,000 fatal drug overdoses that occurred in the United States in 2021.

While some legally prescribed synthetic opioids like fentanyl may be diverted and abused, the majority of fentanyl that is abused is illicitly manufactured in clandestine labs. Additionally, drug cartels are using fentanyl as a cheap bulking agent with which to adulterate heroin, cocaine, or counterfeit prescription pills, leading to an increased risk of addiction and overdose for those who abuse these illicit drugs.

Is Fentanyl Addictive?

Fentanyl works in the same way as other opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and heroin. Binding to opioid receptors in the brain responsible for pain and emotions, ingesting fentanyl alters your perception of pain while simultaneously inducing euphoria.

The sustained use of opioids like fentanyl forces your brain to recalibrate, adjusting to accommodate the continuous presence of opioids in the system. This process is known as tolerance. Tolerance means the effects of fentanyl are diminished and you will become less sensitive to its pain-relieving and rewarding properties.

Many people abusing fentanyl use more of the opioid or take more frequent doses to counteract tolerance. The body continues to adjust, though, and abusive patterns of consumption will accelerate the formation of physical dependence.

If you develop a physical dependence on a substance like fentanyl, your brain becomes dependent on the input of fentanyl and stops the production of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) like dopamine in response. In the absence of fentanyl, you will experience extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms – this process is known as opioid withdrawal.

Dependence on fentanyl typically leads to addiction in the form of OUD (opioid use disorder), a chronic brain condition associated with a range of adverse outcomes, both physical and psychological. As with all opioids, it is possible to become addicted to fentanyl even when using the synthetic opioid strictly as directed by a physician.

How long does it take to get addicted to fentanyl, then?

How Addictive is Fentanyl?

The potency of fentanyl and its swift onset of action means that the drug can cause physical dependence and psychological addiction very rapidly, even when used short-term. Some people become addicted to fentanyl in a matter of weeks.

If you abuse fentanyl, this may trigger life-threatening coma and respiratory depression. How can you tell if fentanyl addiction is developing?

Fentanyl Addiction Symptoms

Fentanyl addiction is diagnosed according to the symptoms outlined in DSM-5-TR, APA’s diagnostic tool that is used within the addiction and mental health treatment communities.

The clinical term for addiction is SUD (substance use disorder), with fentanyl addiction classified as OUD (opioid use disorder). These are the DSM symptoms of fentanyl addiction:

  1. Tolerance developing so you need more fentanyl to achieve the initial effects.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms manifesting in the absence of fentanyl.
  3. Taking more fentanyl than planned or using the substance longer than intended.
  4. Experiencing intense cravings for fentanyl.
  5. Spending a lot of time obtaining and using opioids, as well as recovering from the effects.
  6. Trying and failing to control or discontinue the use of fentanyl.
  7. Spending less time on social and recreational activities due to fentanyl use.
  8. Abusing opioids like fentanyl in dangerous situations.
  9. Ongoing fentanyl abuse despite opioids triggering problems in your personal relationships.
  10. Continuing to use fentanyl even though it is triggering or inflaming a physical or psychological health condition.
  11. Failing to fulfill personal or professional commitments due to fentanyl abuse.

Fentanyl addiction is diagnosed according to the number of symptoms that present as mild (2 or 3), moderate (4 or 5), or severe (6 or more).

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

If you are concerned that a loved one may be abusing fentanyl, monitor for the following fentanyl addiction signs:

  • Spending lots of time, effort, and money on fentanyl
  • Wanting to stop or moderate use of fentanyl but being unable to do so
  • Urges and cravings for fentanyl
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school
  • Secretiveness or lies concerning fentanyl use
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Financial problems
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulties with breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Mood swings
  • Sleeping all day
  • Weight gain

What Happens in Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Fentanyl addiction treatment begins with detox. Detoxification is a process that takes anywhere from one week to several weeks, depending on variables such as:

  • Amount of fentanyl used
  • Typical fentanyl dose
  • Duration of fentanyl abuse
  • Route of administration– injection, patch, or illicit fentanyl
  • Other addictive substances being abused
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders

In almost all cases, those who are dependent on a synthetic opioid like fentanyl would benefit from a supervised medical detox program. A treatment team will administer medications to streamline withdrawal, while actively supervising and monitoring your detox.

Buprenorphine is a partial agonist opioid that is approved by the FDA for treating opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine may be beneficial during fentanyl detox. This medication can trigger the CNS depressant effects and euphoria associated with opioids, but the effects are weaker than those triggered by full opioid agonists like heroin or prescription opioid painkillers. When buprenorphine is administered during fentanyl withdrawal, the medication may:

  • Alleviate the intensity of fentanyl withdrawal symptoms
  • Shorten the fentanyl withdrawal timeline
  • Help normalize brain function

Medications may also be administered to treat:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Blood pressure
  • Seizure

Following fentanyl detox, treatment should continue in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Detox allows you to break physical dependence on fentanyl, and ongoing treatment lets you unpack the psychological aspect of opioid addiction.

During an inpatient or outpatient fentanyl addiction treatment program, you may continue with MAT (medication-assisted treatment). MAT is most effective when combined with behavioral interventions like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). A therapist will help you to isolate your personal addiction triggers and you will discover how to use healthy coping techniques instead of fentanyl.

Fentanyl addiction treatment may also include individual counseling, group therapy, family therapy, and holistic treatments like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.

Although there is no cure for fentanyl addiction, most opioid use disorders respond well to evidence-based treatment.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Near Me

If you have been searching for flexible and affordable fentanyl treatment near you, we can help you at Ohio Community Health.

Fentanyl Rehab at Ohio Community Health

If you are addicted to fentanyl, Ohio Community Health can help. Our team of expert staff specializes in treating drug addictions of all kinds in Cincinnati, Ohio.

If you require a supervised medical detox, we can help connect you with licensed medical detox centers in your area. Medications can streamline the intensity of fentanyl withdrawal and reduce cravings during detox. After a week or so, you can engage with an intensive outpatient treatment program at our Cincinnati treatment facility.

All opioid use disorders like fentanyl addiction respond positively to MAT (medication-assisted treatment) during detoxification and ongoing therapy. At Ohio Community Health, MAT is delivered alongside behavioral interventions like psychotherapy and counseling to produce the most favorable outcomes.

During your opioid addiction treatment, you will identify what triggers you to use opioids, and you will develop healthy coping strategies to use in your ongoing recovery. All Ohio Community Health treatment programs include a robust aftercare component due to the high relapse rates of opioid use disorder.

When you are ready to start living free of fentanyl, we can help you from detox to discharge and beyond. Call (877) 679-2132 today for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn