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What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful pain reliever that comes in many forms, including skin patches

Fentanyl is a prescription pain reliever that is available in several forms, as skin patches, pills, shots, dissolvable film and nasal spray. For patients who have developed a tolerance to opioids, fentanyl might be the only source of effective pain relief. However, misuse of the potent pharmaceutical drug or use of illegal versions, such as a heroin-fentanyl mix, has claimed dozens of lives. Even so, many Anchorage residents still do not know about fentanyl or the dangers it presents.

How Does Fentanyl Work?

Fentanyl is used in treatment for moderate to severe chronic pain. It acts on receptors in the brain, changing the way that it perceives pain. It works similarly to other opioids like morphine, but is more potent and can be effective even when other opioids are not. Patients who are not opioid tolerant can put themselves at great risk by using fentanyl. For pain treatment, it is most commonly used in the form of transdermal patches.

In small, controlled doses, fentanyl is safe to use for pain relief. However, in illegal forms it can be five times as potent as heroin.

What Are the Effects of Fentanyl?

Side effects of fentanyl include the following:

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Skin irritation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Clammy skin
  • Nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Slow heart rate
  • Weakness

Long-term use can result in more serious side effects such as depression, anxiety, confusion and the risk of respiratory depression.

Why Is Fentanyl so Dangerous?

Fentanyl should not be combined with any other drug, especially other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. When combined with other CNS depressants, its effects are intensified and overdose can occur. Like other opioids, fentanyl overdose can cause respiratory depression, and requires even more intensive treatment than heroin overdose.  There is no safe way to use fentanyl other than exactly as prescribed by a physician.

Versions of fentanyl that are not legally approved can be combined with heroin, unbeknownst to the user. Overdose epidemics believed to be caused by heroin-fentanyl and acetyl-fentanyl have occurred in areas of the eastern United States. This has prompted law enforcement to redouble their efforts to identify designer street drugs and focus on tracking down fentanyl dealers before more fatalities occur. Acetyl-fentanyl can be difficult to identify in drug screenings, and goes undetected in many cases of overdose. However, knowledge about the potent drug is growing and more people are learning to avoid its dangers.

Help for Fentanyl Addiction

If you or a loved one in Anchorage is addicted to fentanyl, call our toll-free helpline to speak with an admissions coordinator about your professional treatment options. We are available 24 hours a day to connect you with the treatment plan that works for you. Don’t wait. Please call today.