Fentanyl: Addictive, Harmful, and Deadly

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is used by medical professionals to treat severe chronic pain and pain related to end-of-life circumstances, such as advanced cancer pain. Medical professionals also use morphine for pain management. Illegal use of morphine can lead to severe health complications, overdose, or death.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Overdose is common with fentanyl abuse due to the high tolerance level that builds up in a very short time. This means a person will take more fentanyl to achieve the same intense euphoric effects that occurred with the first use.

The Deadly Nature of Fentanyl

The high potency of fentanyl’s euphoric effects causes dependence and addiction faster than most other drugs. Fentanyl is bought through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect and is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product—with or without the user’s knowledge—to increase its euphoric effects. (Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA Investigative Reporting, January 2015).

The smallest amount of fentanyl can be deadly. The purest form of fentanyl is a grainy white powder with crystals that resemble table salt. Many street drugs are laced with other components. Illegal drug makers are using fentanyl in their heroin manufacturing. This makes people accidentally overdose, while they do not know that their heroin contains fatal amounts of fentanyl.

When higher doses of fentanyl are taken, the body cannot process the amount fast enough, which leads to overdose and death. Fentanyl’s chemical structure causes fast and potent effects on the brain and body. Some signs and symptoms of fentanyl overdose include confusion, disorientation, slow breathing and heartbeat, severe drowsiness, inability to talk, and feeling faint or dizzy.

Opioid-dependent individuals use fentanyl as a replacement for heroin. Fentanyl-related death happens so quickly that people are often found with a syringe still in the site of injection. An article about fentanyl for WBIR 10 News (2018), by Brett Kelman states, “Drug dealers often smuggle fentanyl across the border from Mexico or through the mail from China, then mix it into weak heroin to maximize profits.” 

Fentanyl depresses the respiratory system and cough reflex, and it causes the pupils to constrict. It can work quickly to relieve pain and produce sedation. The effects of Fentanyl last about 30-90 minutes. Fentanyl affects each person differently. The effects of fentanyl that a person experiences depends on an individual’s size, weight, state of health, amount that is used, whether fentanyl is taken in combination with other drugs, and whether the person already uses other opioids. (Kathleen Davis FNP, Medical News Today, 2019).

The Health Risks of Fentanyl Exposure to First Responders

Fentanyl is a threat to anyone who comes in contact with it, including first responders. Firefighters, EMS personnel, law enforcement officers, and police K9s put their lives at risk every day to serve, protect and provide medical assistance to citizens within our communities.

First responders are at high risk of exposure to fentanyl and other fentanylrelated substances through emergency or lifesaving situations. Fentanyl can be taken orally, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin or eyes, and any substance suspected to contain fentanyl should be treated with extreme caution as exposure to a small amount can lead to extreme healthrelated complications, respiratory depression, or death.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018, nearly half of all opioid-related deaths in 2016 involved fentanyl. The risk is so high that first responders have to change the way they do their jobs. EMTs, police, and paramedics are at risk of potentially coming into contact with fentanyl when responding to overdoses.

Fentanyl is so powerful that accidentally ingesting or breathing in only a tiny amount of residue can send an adult to the hospital. Emergency room staff is instructed to wear protective gear when handling patients that may have fentanyl residue on them to prevent accidental contact. There must be widespread public health education and training of clinicians and first responders about fentanyl risks.

Treatment for Addiction, Substance Use Disorders, and Mental Health

Fentanyl and opioid abuse is deadly. Addiction is complex, but treatment is available. Often, people who suffer from addiction or substance use disorder also live with an underlying or untreated mental health condition. Fortunately, both conditions are treatable.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health condition and a substance use disorder or addiction, get help now. Mental health, substance use disorders, and addiction are treatable and there is hope in recovery. If you are seeking help for a mental health disorder and addiction, both conditions must be treated simultaneously as a dual diagnosis for the best results in recovery. Treatment can be tailored to your unique individual needs. Save a life and get help today. While there is no cure for addiction, it is treatable and recovery is possible. A new, fulfilling, enjoyable sober lifestyle awaits you in recovery.

“I’m not telling you it is going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” ~ Anonymous



Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.