Fentanyl Side Effects

fentanyl side effects wolf creek recovery
This entry was posted in Addiction and tagged on by .

Arizona state troopers are no strangers to the dangers of fentanyl — and the many ways it enters the country. In March 2024, Arizona state troopers seized 28.85 pounds of fentanyl pills in the Phoenix metro area. Over the last six months, more than 7,000,000 pills have been seized.

Even with the hard work of Arizona’s law enforcement, fentanyl is still crossing the border and getting into the hands of civilians. More than five people die every day from opioid overdoses in Arizona, and many don’t even realize they’ve ingested fentanyl.

While fentanyl can be used in a hospital setting, the fentanyl that is killing people is mostly illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF). IMF is cheap for drug dealers to make but far more potent. This is why it’s being added to other illegal substances like heroin. It only takes a few grains of fentanyl to kill, which is why overdose rates are so high.

Wolf Creek Recovery is a treatment facility in Prescott, AZ, known for our Extended Care program. Recovering from an opioid use disorder involves hard work, but it is possible to make a full recovery with the right support. Let’s learn more about fentanyl side effects and how the drug affects the brain and body.

Fentanyl Side Effects

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is about 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. It was approved by the FDA for use as an analgesic and anesthetic. However, it can also be made and used illicitly.

Taking fentanyl can cause immediate effects like pain relief, euphoria, and relaxation. Over time, continued use of the drug can lead to longer term problems such as constipation, sleep problems, severe cravings, and compulsive drug seeking behaviors.

What Is Fentanyl Prescribed For?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, such as pain after a medical procedure or pain from late-stage cancer. Typically, fentanyl is prescribed when a patient is experiencing “breakthrough pain,” a type of pain that occurs in sudden episodes despite around-the-clock treatment. It is used alongside other pain medications and is available in lozenges, tablets, sprays, and patches.

However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdoses are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It’s often added to drugs like cocaine or heroin due to its potent effects. By adding fentanyl to these substances, they become stronger, more addictive, and more dangerous. While fentanyl is a Schedule II substance, partly because it is an active ingredient in FDA-approved medical products, the majority of fentanyl-related substances are temporarily controlled under Schedule I.

Side Effects of Fentanyl

Like all opioids, fentanyl attaches to opioid receptors in the brain that control pain and emotion. Fentanyl also causes the brain to release a surge of dopamine, a chemical responsible for making people feel happy. When dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates a euphoric effect.

Feeling this extreme happiness allows people to escape from emotional or physical pain. This can be especially desirable in individuals who are trying to numb past trauma, mental health symptoms, or physical discomfort. However, this feeling is only temporary. When fentanyl’s effects wear off, dopamine levels drop.

Long-Term Effects

The long-term effects associated with fentanyl and other opioids are:

  • Chronic and severe constipation
  • Breathing problems during sleep
  • Heart attack and heart failure
  • Low immunity/frequent illness
  • Hormonal and reproductive issues
  • Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders
  • Substance use disorders

A person who takes fentanyl for a long time can become increasingly tolerant to its effects. This means that they have to increase their dosage or frequency to feel the effects. Developing a tolerance raises the risk of an opioid use disorder, and this can occur even with prescription fentanyl.

Short-Term Effects

There are also a number of short-term effects that can occur with fentanyl use:

  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Small pupils
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed breathing

Common Side Effects

To recap, some of the most common side effects of fentanyl are extreme happiness, sedation, drowsiness, and pain relief. These effects are felt almost immediately — tablets, lozenges, and nasal sprays take about 15 minutes to kick in and last around four to six hours. Patches can take up to a day or two to start working but last longer, while injections work almost immediately but are only given in a hospital. Using fentanyl for an extended period of time can cause other side effects to occur, such as constipation and breathing problems.

Rare Side Effects

Any rare side effects should be addressed immediately, as they may indicate an fentanyl overdose. Rare effects may include:

  • Bluish color on the fingernails, lips, skin, palms, or nail beds
  • Burning, itching, redness, swelling
  • Skin rashes
  • Confusion about identity, place, and time
  • False or unusual sense of well-being
  • Irregular, fast, or slow breathing

side effects fentanyl wolf creek recovery

How Fentanyl Affects the Body

Like all opioids, fentanyl attaches to proteins called opioid receptors, which can be found in the brain, spinal cord, gut, and other parts of the body. When this happens, pain messages sent from the body through the spinal cord and to the brain are blocked. While opioids can be effective at treating pain, they can also be habit-forming. Low doses of opioids cause sleepiness, sedation, and extreme happiness, but high doses can affect breathing.

When a person takes too much fentanyl, they can experience an overdose. The parts of the brain responsible for inhaling and exhaling essentially shut down, slowing or stopping breathing altogether. This can happen quickly, but it’s more common for it to happen over a number of hours.

Because pain receptors are found all over the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as in the gastrointestinal tract, fentanyl can affect other parts of the body, too. People who misuse fentanyl can experience constipation and GI motility issues, kidney disease, liver disease, and a worsening of thyroid and lung problems.

How Fentanyl Affects the Brain

As mentioned earlier, fentanyl attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals. It also causes the brain to release a mass amount of dopamine, which produces feelings of extreme happiness and relaxation. Dopamine is also responsible for motivating our actions and repeating pleasurable experiences. Due to this, the brain produces strong cravings and urges for the drug.

Fentanyl also slows down brain function and suppresses the central nervous system, slowing breathing and potentially leading to hypoxia, which happens when insufficient oxygen reaches the brain. Long-term use of fentanyl can change the brain’s structure and function, causing changes in neural circuitry and a decrease in white matter. As a result, people may have trouble making decisions, regulating their behavior, and responding to stressful situations. Furthermore, fentanyl use can cause an imbalance in neurotransmitters, increasing the risk for anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders.

Fentanyl Hallucinations

Fentanyl hallucinations, or “opioid-induced hallucinations,” are a significant adverse effect of opioids, though fortunately, they are not common. Nevertheless, some people do experience them, and many are afraid to report their experiences because they don’t want to be judged. These hallucinations tend to be visual or auditory in nature and are referred to as “waking dreams.”

Some people want to avoid these hallucinogenic effects, while others actively seek them out. While fentanyl hallucinations are more likely to happen to those who are taking high doses, they have been known to occur even from a single dose of oxycodone. Researchers are still learning more about why hallucinations happen to some people and not others, with potential risks being genetics, drug interactions, or systemic illness.

Dangers of Potential Overdose

Fentanyl is driving the increase in overdose deaths for a couple of reasons. First, it’s an extremely potent substance, and it doesn’t take much to kill a person. Unlike alcohol or cocaine, just two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal. People often don’t realize that the small amount they are ingesting can be deadly.

The bigger problem is that many people don’t realize they are consuming fentanyl in the first place. They may think they are taking cocaine, heroin, or a prescription pill, when in reality, it’s cut with fentanyl. Drug dealers add fentanyl to street drugs to make them cheaper, stronger, and more addictive. However, it’s impossible to detect fentanyl unless you use a test strip.

Because it’s natural for fentanyl to cause sedation, drowsiness, confusion, and “nodding off,” it can be difficult to know when someone is experiencing an overdose. They may lie down in bed and never wake up again. The risk for overdose is especially high when fentanyl is combined with other substances like alcohol or heroin. As it enters the body, it can overwhelm the brain and interfere with the body’s natural drive to breathe.

When a person stops breathing, oxygen can’t get to the brain, causing seizures, brain damage, and death. While naloxone can reverse a fentanyl overdose, a person must be present, know what is happening, and have access to the drug. Even non-fatal overdoses can be dangerous, causing brain damage, organ damage, and kidney failure.

How to Cope With the Side Effects of Fentanyl

The best ways to cope with the side effects of fentanyl are by following your doctor’s orders and keeping your treatment team up-to-date with any new symptoms or side effects. Some people don’t report their side effects out of fear of judgment, but by informing your treatment team of these occurrences, they can adjust your dose or rotate your medications.

Constipation is another common side effect associated with opioids. To prevent severe constipation or gut motility problems, your doctor may recommend a laxative or stool softener. Keep track of your symptoms and share them with your doctor at your appointments. Watch for signs that you could be developing a tolerance to fentanyl, such as needing more to feel pain relief or experiencing withdrawal effects when it wears off.

fentanyl side effects

Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction in Prescott, AZ

While there is a purpose for fentanyl, even prescription fentanyl can lead to a substance use disorder. If you feel that you’re growing tolerant to the effects of fentanyl or find yourself craving it when you don’t have it, let someone know. You do not have to wait to access fentanyl addiction treatment. Without intervention, this problem can spiral and lead to a fentanyl use disorder.

Treatment for fentanyl use disorder includes medication and behavioral therapies. The FDA has cleared medications to treat fentanyl addiction. These medications decrease cravings, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and block the effects of opioids. Behavioral therapies can teach you how to manage stress and triggers more effectively, reducing your reliance on pain medication.

Wolf Creek Recovery is a rehabilitation center that treats opioid use disorders. Many of our staff members are in recovery, so we truly feel like one big family! While evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing, are important parts of our program, we also spend time having fun! Many people worry that when they enter treatment they have to give up everything, but we teach individuals that recovery gives back. To learn more about our programs and how to start rebuilding your life, contact us today at 833-732-8202.

FAQs About the Side Effects of Fentanyl

What is fentanyl prescribed for?

Fentanyl is used to treat patients with severe pain, such as after a medical procedure or advanced-stage cancer. It may also be used to treat pain that is not responding to other opioids.

What are some of the common side effects of fentanyl?

The most common side effects of fentanyl are euphoria, pain relief, and drowsiness. It can also cause constipation, confusion, and sedation. In high doses, fentanyl can interfere with breathing.

How can you manage the side effects of fentanyl?

If you have been prescribed fentanyl, keep track of your symptoms. Any unusual or bothersome side effects, including hallucinations, should be reported. Your doctor may change your dosage or rotate your medications.

How do you know you’re becoming dependent on fentanyl?

Even prescription fentanyl can lead to dependence. If you find yourself needing more of the drug to feel pain relief or experiencing withdrawal symptoms, talk to your doctor. If you are developing a substance use disorder, help is available.