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Fentanyl is a strong narcotic pain reliever derived from opiates found in the opium poppy flower. It is one of the most widely abused opiates in the nation. Used most often for post-operative surgical pain, getting one’s hands on fentanyl isn’t easy, but the demand for it is high. Street dealers will often splice their supplies of fentanyl with other drugs or simple substances, like sugar, to spread it out across more buyers. For this reason, people who abuse it can’t be completely sure of what they’re getting when they buy it.

The high that fentanyl produces is akin to any other opiate; it brings with it a feeling of comfort and the removal of all perception of pain. This is often very appealing to those who are having a harder time locating supplies of drugs like oxycodone and hydromorphone.

People who suffer from mental illness often prefer the sedating effects of opioids too. These drugs are known to induce sleep and numb the senses, and emotions aren’t exempt from that. For this reason, the euphoria that fentanyl produces replaces depressed moods and anxiety-riddled thoughts. This can be quite appealing to the 20 percent of people who abuse drugs and alcohol and also suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Warning Signs of Abuse


Pew Charitable Trusts notes that the number of opioid-related overdoses that involved fentanyl in 2014 was 79 percent higher than the previous year. This problem is growing.

In many cases, people are concerned about a loved one who is abusing fentanyl. Often, someone who is will deny it or try to cover it up. This can leave family members and friends wondering if there really is a problem. Knowing how to spot the red flags of fentanyl abuse can help.

Some of the most common physical signs of fentanyl abuse include:

  • Reckless behavior
  • An obsession with making sure an adequate supply of fentanyl is always on hand
  • Failure to cut back despite a desire to do so
  • Strong cravings to keep using
  • Tolerance
  • Sleepiness
  • Nightmares
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when use is stopped
  • Coma
  • Swelling of extremities
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Trouble breathing
  • Death

Fentanyl can cause individuals who abuse it to experience depression and anxiety. Since opioid drugs slowly kill off dopamine receptors in many people, some who abuse drugs like fentanyl may be left with lasting clinical depression. This is a result of receptors not working properly to receive and interpret dopamine, and the brain and endocrine systems failing to adequately produce it.

In cases of co-occurring mental health issues, integrated treatment is needed. This is care that addresses both the addiction and the co-occurring mental health issue. Around 53 percent of people who abuse drugs also have mental illness impacting their lives, per Helpguide. In some cases, issues of mental health are actually drug-induced and may resolve entirely after sobriety is sustained.

Recovering from Fentanyl Addiction


If a loved one appears to be suffering from addiction and displays any signs of fentanyl abuse, getting them help as soon as possible is essential. Left untreated, addictions fester and can lead to serious health issues, including death.

Many family members and friends of people who abuse fentanyl make the mistake of waiting for their loved one to decide to be ready for treatment or to ask for help on their own. Some even enable their loved one by providing food, money, or lodging. All of these behaviors contribute to the addiction.

A professional interventionist can aid concerned loved ones in stopping these enabling behaviors and getting help for the person they care about. Comprehensive addiction treatment includes medical detox and therapy to address the reasons that led to substance abuse in the first place. Every treatment plan should be catered to the individual needs of the person in treatment, growing and changing with the person as they progress in recovery.