What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a human-made opioid used to treat severe pain. It is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. The drug interacts with receptors in your brain to create feelings of pain relief, relaxation, contentment, and pleasure.
Although it is safe for your doctor to give you fentanyl medically, some people abuse it, which can lead to an overdose.
Why Do Doctors Prescribe Fentanyl?
A doctor may prescribe fentanyl if you experience severe pain from cancer, nerve damage, a serious injury, or major surgery.
Medical fentanyl comes in many forms, including:
- Pastilles, sometimes on a stick
- Skin patches
- By injection or intravenously
Before giving you fentanyl, your doctor should make sure that you are not allergic to it or to any other narcotic pain reliever. Tell your doctor if you have ever had:
- Sleep Apnea
- Breathing problems
- Brain tumor
- Head injury
- A cerebral vascular accident
- Liver or kidney disease
- Slow heartbeats or other heart problems
- Low blood pressure
- Mental illness, such as depression or schizophrenia
Also tell your doctor if:
- You have used an antidepressant called MAO inhibitor (isocarboxazid, linezolid, methylene blue injection, phenelzine, rasagiline, selegiline, tranylcypromine) in the last 14 days
- You are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding
What are the side effects of fentanyl?
This medicine stays in your system for 24 to 72 hours.
After treatment with fentanyl, you may have side effects that interfere with your thinking and reactions or cause dizziness or drowsiness. For this reason, do not drive or do activities that require you to be fully alert and awake after your treatment. Avoid drinking alcohol for several hours after taking fentanyl.
Fentanyl can cause other side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms persist or become severe:
- Stomach pain or heartburn
- Difficulty peeing
- Vision changes
- Anxiety or depression
- Unusual thoughts or dreams
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Dry mouth
- Sudden redness of the face, neck or upper chest
- Shake in any part of your body
- Pain in the back or chest
- Pain in the mouth, sores or irritation where you received fentanyl
- Swelling in the hands, feet, arms, ankles or lower legs
Call your doctor immediately if you notice:
- Changes in your heartbeat
- Hallucinations, restlessness, fever, sweating, confusion, chills, muscle stiffness or twitching, loss of coordination, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite, weakness or dizziness
- Sexual or menstrual problems
- Hives or rashes
See an emergency doctor and stop using fentanyl if you have:
- Shallow and slow breathing
- Difficulty swallowing and breathing
- Intense drowsiness
- Dizziness or confusion
How do people abuse fentanyl?
Fentanyl is very addictive. It is one of the drugs most commonly implicated in overdose deaths.
The drug can be manufactured illegally. Resellers can sell it as a stand-alone drug or as a counterfeit of another drug (such as oxycodone). It is also used as an inexpensive additive to other drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, molly, and ecstasy.
If you unknowingly take fentanyl in another medicine, you may overdose because fentanyl is so strong.
Fentanyl can also be ‘hijacked’. This is when the medicine is prescribed by a doctor but is not used as directed or is sold or given to someone else.
Some people take fentanyl illegally by separating it from the skin patches and injecting it. This can be dangerous as it is difficult to judge the size of the dose. You may be able to inject a lot more fentanyl than you think.
What are the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose?
Call an ambulance right away if you suspect that you or someone you have been drugging with.
Signs of an overdose may appear within seconds of taking fentanyl. They understand :
- Blue lips and complexion
- Gurgling or slow breathing
- Chest pain
- Seizures or stiffening of the body
- Confusion or strange behavior
First responders will likely administer naloxone (Narcan), a drug that reverses the effects of opiates.
You do not need to be a healthcare professional to administer this medicine. You can get it from a pharmacist without a prescription. It comes as a quick-acting nasal spray or a pre-loaded multidose syringe. Some experts recommend having naloxone on hand whenever a member of the household takes narcotics.
To avoid accidental fentanyl overdoses, you can use fentanyl test strips to make sure other medications do not contain the opioid. You can get them through some awareness programs, such as needle exchanges.