Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that has had plenty of media attention recently due to its highly addictive and destructive nature. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that fentanyl addiction could become an epidemic. In just three years between 2013 and 2016, deaths associated with fentanyl overdose increased 113 percent per year. It is more than 50 times more potent than morphine and whether it’s used recreationally or illegally, it can be quite deadly.
Fentanyl helps to ease physical pain by binding to pain receptors in the brain. It is usually prescribed to patients after surgery or those in severe pain. It is typically administered in patches, lozenges, or as an injection. However, it is now being seen more on the streets mixed in with heroin, cocaine, or other pain pills. Just a small amount of fentanyl can cause respiratory duress that can lead to death.
Stopping the use of fentanyl can result in very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as:
When someone stops taking fentanyl, the brain goes through changes because it’s trying to get back to equilibrium without the drug. It’s trying to level out and the result is withdrawal symptoms. As with other opioids, it takes time for the brain and body to get back to a balance without the drug.
The timeline for withdrawal symptoms varies from person to person, depending on various factors, such as:
The general timeline for fentanyl withdrawal is as follows:
Typically, mild withdrawal symptoms can start to be felt as soon as 12 hours after the last dose. However, because fentanyl is slow-acting due to its time-release properties, some people don’t feel any withdrawal symptoms until perhaps 20 to 30 hours after the last dose. This will depend on those factors mentioned above. The early stage usually lasts about two to three days with typical symptoms being:
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The peak stage is likely to produce the most intense and uncomfortable opioid withdrawal symptoms. This usually appears between days 3 and 5, with common symptoms such as:
After about five days, withdrawal symptoms should be decreasing in intensity. Physically, symptoms tend to stop within a week or two, but psychological cravings like cravings or mood swings can linger on for weeks or months. It’s helpful to have ongoing professional support during this stage to prevent a relapse.
It is important to note that when someone is detoxing from fentanyl, or any opioid, the risk of overdose is high if they relapse. The reason for this is because, during the detox, the body reduces its tolerance for the drug. Users who relapse may take the same dosage as they did before, which is higher than the body can handle, and it causes them to overdose. Thus, it is necessary to reach out for medical help to detox from any opioid, as the medical support can decrease the likelihood of relapse.
Stopping fentanyl cold turkey is not suggested, as the withdrawal symptoms can be quite uncomfortable. Generally, physicians recommend patients use a taper schedule to come off opioids gradually. This helps when it comes to contending to some of the painful fentanyl withdrawal symptoms. Comprehensive treatment centers are equipped to offer inpatient or outpatient services to help those seeking to stop using fentanyl.
Detox is the first step toward getting free from fentanyl addiction. The next treatment step is to seek treatment at a facility that can offer both medical and social support for several weeks. What’s great about attending a treatment facility is receiving care from those who are experts when it comes to addiction and recovery. Having that individualized care makes a difference.
The best protocol for staying off fentanyl is to go through medically assisted treatment either at an inpatient or outpatient center.
Inpatient treatment – The patient lives at the treatment center for a period of time to receive support and services, usually around 30 days. This is the best option for heavy users or those with the highest chance of relapse.
Outpatient treatment – The patient resides at home and attends classes or sessions at the treatment center, usually between three to five classes per week. If the person is receiving medication, such as methadone, they’ll receive their dosage at the treatment center before going home.
The FDA has approved various medications that can be prescribed to help someone get off fentanyl. These include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Along with these medications, counseling is offered to help patients learn the necessary skills to go on to live better lives without opioids.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe medications for anxiety or depression, should the patient be struggling. This can help ease some of the psychological withdrawal symptoms present during detox. In addition, continued aftercare support, such as counseling or attending support groups, is recommended.
Fentanyl addiction is treatable. If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl, or another opioid addiction please reach out for help today.
NIDA. Fentanyl. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/fentanyl
WebMD. Fentanyl . Now the No. 1 Opioid OD Killer. Steven Reinberg. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20181212/fentanyl-now-the-no-1-opioid-od-killer#1
verywellmind. (2018. October) Opiate and Opioid Drug Withdrawal. Signs & Symptoms. Jacques, E. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/opioid-withdrawal-2564485
Mayo Clinic. (October 2017). Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112
Mayo Clinic. (2019 March) Tapering off opioids: When and how. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/tapering-off-opioids-when-and-how/art-20386036