Fentanyl Side Effects
Yet another story about the opioid epidemic airs on a local Tampa news channel. It shares startling statistics: four people per day die of opioid overdose in Tampa, and Tampa has a 50% higher overdose rate than the rest of the nation. A mother sobs on the television screen, saying she wishes she knew the dangers of fentanyl before her child overdosed and passed away.
There are countless stories like this, whether they’re on the news or in personal communities. So many people have been impacted on a deep level by the opioid crisis, and fentanyl in particular. But what is fentanyl? How can we prevent more of those stories from appearing on the news or haunting local families?
At Clean Recovery Centers, we’re very familiar with these stories, and we’re determined to give them happy endings. While recovery from a fentanyl use disorder is difficult, it’s definitely possible. We help our clients through every step of treatment for substance use disorders, from detox and residential, to outpatient and alumni support.
Jumping right into treatment can be scary, though, if not seemingly impossible. That’s why education is a good first step. Sometimes, like the mother in the news story, people simply don’t have the knowledge needed about substance misuse. If you’re looking to change that, you’re in the right place. Here’s what you need to know about fentanyl and its side effects.
A Medication First and Foremost: What Fentanyl is Prescribed For
While we most often hear about fentanyl these days in the context of overdoses, fentanyl does come in a medically approved, pharmaceutical form that doctors use from time to time. Fentanyl was first introduced as a legitimate medication in the 1960s, and is a Schedule II narcotic under the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970. 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, it’s prescribed for extreme cases of pain, such as late-stage cancer pain. It comes in the form of IV injections, lozenges, or adhesive patches that release the medication slowly into your system.
Why Is Fentanyl Such a Huge Part of the Opioid Epidemic?
The biggest problem with fentanyl is that it’s cheap and easy to make. It’s often laced into other illicit substances, like heroin, to make the effects stronger and make supplies last longer. Sometimes, this is entirely unknown to the person purchasing the illicit substance, and it’s impossible to tell when another drug is mixed with fentanyl. It doesn’t smell or taste like anything. It’s far easier to overdose on fentanyl than any other narcotic due to its extreme potency, and some people using substances illicitly have no idea of the danger it poses, especially if it’s hidden in another substance without them knowing.
What Are Some Side Effects of Fentanyl?
Whether you’ve been prescribed it or are taking it illicitly, fentanyl’s side effects are the same. Keep an eye out for these so you know whether you or a loved one should seek medical attention.
Common Side Effects
Side effects can begin from the very first dose of fentanyl, no matter how much you take. As with many medications, side effects vary from person to person, and it’s most important to remember when you begin taking fentanyl so you can judge whether any strange response by your body could be related. The most common side effects, however, are the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Rash (especially in the case of patches)
- Trouble sleeping
It’s not vital to contact your doctor if you experience these side effects unless they last for a while or really bother you. It never hurts to call if you’re worried, though.
Rare Side Effects
While there are well-known side effects, there are also less common side effects to be aware of, especially because these are more dangerous. If you notice any of these after you or a loved one takes fentanyl, contact a medical professional as soon as possible:
- Rapid weight gain
- Burning or tingling feelings
- Changes in urination
- Upper stomach pain
- Respiratory problems
A Quick High? The Short-Term Effects of Fentanyl
Fentanyl is so appealing for illicit use because you can feel its effects within minutes. It can induce a feeling of euphoria and relaxation, and of course, reduces any physical pain. Those seemingly beneficial effects of fentanyl aren’t the only ones that can kick in right away, though. Those previously mentioned side effects can too. Even overdose can happen almost immediately after fentanyl use.
The Lesser Known Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl
Medically prescribed fentanyl is rarely used long-term, but that’s not the case for those with fentanyl use disorders. These individuals typically use fentanyl for a long time, and it may lead to poor nutrition, sexual and reproductive problems, worsening mental health distress, and in some cases, it may even worsen pain.
Naturally, this can also lead to negative lifestyle changes. The fatigue that fentanyl sometimes presents can seep into everything, making regular tasks seem exhausting. Fentanyl withdrawals can feel excruciating and debilitating, and often make those with fentanyl use disorders desperate to find some so they feel better. This often puts strain on relationships, interferes at the workplace, and may even make hobbies feel unenjoyable, especially compared to the temporary high of fentanyl.
Overdose is also possible. While overdose can happen from the first moment a person takes fentanyl, often, it happens after repeated use. This is because people will often feel like they built up a tolerance to its effects, and will take more of the substance. The reality is, your body doesn’t get tolerant to fentanyl. Your brain adjusts to the changes fentanyl makes in it, but that doesn’t mean it “gets used to it” or can handle more of it. It never processes fentanyl any faster or more effectively, so the higher the dose, the more overloaded your body is, and the more dangerous it gets.
How Does Fentanyl Affect the Brain?
Fentanyl provides its euphoric feeling by binding to opioid receptors in your brain. These receptors are in the areas of your brain that control pain, pleasure, heart rate, and breathing. Your body has natural opioids that help you feel relaxed, and also help the pleasure and reward centers of your brain. They do this by activating dopamine in your brain, which then makes you feel great. Synthetic opioids make this process far more intense due to their potency, with fentanyl being the strongest of them all.
Over time, your brain, which is always changing, adjusts to the repeated rushes of serotonin. This weakens those feelings of pleasure. That doesn’t make fentanyl less dangerous; in fact, it may make it more dangerous, because you’ll need even more of the opioid to get the same effect that you did early on.
Prolonged use of fentanyl can also lead to mental health conditions, or, more frequently, the exacerbation of conditions that were already there. People tend to feel depressed when they aren’t taking fentanyl, both because the drug’s euphoria doesn’t compare to normal life, and because the brain has adjusted based on the expectation that it will receive intense rushes of dopamine. It does this by creating fewer opioid receptors in the brain, meaning there’s less opportunity for natural opioids to do their job.
It’s also important to remember one of fentanyl’s very dangerous qualities: it impacts areas of the brain related to breathing. A recent study found that fentanyl can stop breathing four minutes before anyone taking it feels less alert at all. This is often what happens when people overdose.
Do Fentanyl Hallucinations Really Happen?
They’re rare, but yes, hallucinations can happen when taking fentanyl. They’re usually visual and/or auditory, and rarely tactile. Scientists believe their instances may be underreported, but so far, the few studies of this phenomenon found they usually occur in people with underlying conditions.
How Does Fentanyl Affect the Body?
Fentanyl’s tendency to affect breathing can cause respiratory depression, which leads to less oxygen in your blood, and potentially, oxygen not reaching your body’s tissues. In less severe cases, this causes mild symptoms, like shortness of breath or headaches. In cases where your tissues aren’t receiving enough oxygen, it can cause bluish skin, rapid heart rate, confusion, restlessness, and even death if not treated quickly.
Fentanyl also reduces activity in the digestive system, which is why constipation is a common side effect. It also often exacerbates previous digestive problems.
Studies have shown opioid use also has an impact on the heart, sometimes causing atrial fibrillation. There’s additional proof that fentanyl may reduce testosterone in men, and impact fertility in women. Babies born to mothers with opioid use disorders in general are more susceptible to birth defects and sometimes experience opioid withdrawal from birth.
Fentanyl is also linked to an increased risk of bone fractures in the elderly. Additionally, those who use needles to administer fentanyl are often at high risk for HIV and other infectious diseases due to needle sharing.
What Is the Real Danger of a Potential Fentanyl Overdose?
Because fentanyl is such a strong opioid, the potential to overdose on it is higher than others. While you can overdose on fentanyl by itself, most overdose deaths occur due to fentanyl being mixed with another substance. Once you mix fentanyl (or any opioid) with alcohol, for example, the danger increases exponentially. This is especially dangerous because people making illicit drugs often use fentanyl to make their supply last longer, sometimes mixing it with other substances without the user even knowing.
Thankfully, Naloxone can reduce the effects of an overdose and is now found over the counter in a nasal spray form. That being said, medical attention in the case of an overdose is still necessary. Florida’s Good Samaritan Act also ensures no one seeking care for an overdose will get into legal trouble, so if you think someone is overdosing, don’t hesitate to get them help.
How Can You Cope With the Side Effects of Fentanyl?
If you’ve been prescribed fentanyl and are experiencing side effects, the best thing you can do is talk to the doctor who prescribed it. They can offer you personalized advice based on your situation and specific symptoms.
If you have a fentanyl use disorder, however, that likely isn’t an option for you. You may be struggling with symptoms from taking fentanyl and fentanyl withdrawals simultaneously, which is a painful combination. This is not something you have to deal with alone. It’s a good time to consider getting help.
How Do I Get Treatment For Fentanyl Use Disorder in Florida?
Whether it’s you or a loved one dealing with fentanyl use disorder, getting fentanyl addiction treatment is a daunting task. Support from the people around them is vital for anyone with a substance use disorder, including those using fentanyl. If you’re concerned about someone in your life, have an open, empathetic conversation with them. Their fentanyl use may be hard to understand, but they likely started using it to cope with some kind of pain, be it emotional or physical. They need you to lean on now more than ever.
If you’re the one living with a fentanyl use disorder, by reading this far, you’re already a little closer to receiving treatment than you were before. Even small victories on the road to recovery are worth celebrating.
With locations throughout Florida, including Tampa, Sarasota, and Bradenton, Clean Recovery Centers understands that substance use disorders run deeper than just substances. Mental health is a vital piece of the puzzle, so we’re prepared to diagnose and treat mental health conditions during every step on your road to recovery. Call us at 1-855-381-6111 today, and let us help you get clean, live clean, and stay clean.