What Is Fentanyl and Why Is It So Dangerous?

Written by Robert Castan | Edited By Editorial Team

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The Dangers of Using Fentanyl

Drug abuse is a common problem throughout America. Some statistics indicate that over 20 million Americans suffer from some sort of addiction. Furthermore, addiction to various types of prescription pain medications is becoming increasingly common. With millions of people suffering from physical issues that cause them a great deal of pain, these types of medications are often prescribed. However, they can easily result in serious side effects and addictions that warrant professional intervention. What is Fentanyl and why does it have the potential to be dangerous? We will discuss this particular medication in more detail below.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a very powerful analgesic medication in the opioid drug classification. It is similar in effect to morphine, but can actually be anywhere from fifty to one hundred times stronger. It is typically prescribed to patients dealing with chronic pain conditions or coping with the painful after-effects of major surgery. It is sometimes prescribed for patients who have built up a tolerance to other opioid pain relievers and find that they no longer provide the necessary relief.



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How is Fentanyl Used?

This drug is most commonly prescribed as an injection, a transdermal patch that is placed on the skin, or a lozenge placed in the mouth. People who abuse the drug often crush it and snort the powder for a fast-acting effect. The components of the drug are quickly absorbed through the mucous membranes when used in this manner.

How Does Fentanyl Affect the Brain?

This medication is in the opioid drug class. This means that when it is taken into the body, the components are broken down and bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in increased dopamine production. The increase in dopamine leads to a reduction in pain and a general feeling of relaxation in the user.

When taken too frequently or in larger amounts than what is prescribed, this medication can result in dangerous effects similar to those caused by heroin. These can include marked drowsiness, confusion, decreased respiratory function, and eventual coma or death in severe cases.

Why is Fentanyl Dangerous?

High levels of opioid-type medications can cause serious and life-threatening effects within the body. If these medications are over-used, the body also tends to build up a tolerance to them, requiring more with each dose to have the same effect.

Since opioid receptors are present in areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and other essential bodily functions, these functions can be adversely affected by the overuse of this drug or similar opioid medications.

This particular opioid drug is of an extremely high potency compared to some others in the same classification. This means it can be much easier to unwittingly overdose on it, resulting in a life-threatening medical situation or even death.

What can be done for a Person Who Overdoses on Fentanyl?

A prescription medication called naloxone is given to patients who have overdosed on this drug or similar opioid medications. Naloxone is a medication that is an opioid antagonist, meaning it is capable of reversing the effects of the opioid overdose. This allows the patient to establish a normal pattern of breathing once again so that they can recover from the effects of their overdose.

Contraindications of Usage

Because Fentanyl is an extremely powerful medication, it is available by prescription from a physician only and should not be considered for use in specific situations. For example, the following contraindications exist surrounding the use of this drug and if fentanyl is used, the risk for overdose or death is increased:

  • It should not be used in patients with existing lung disease or breathing issues.
  • It should be avoided in patients with a history of head injuries or brain tumors.
  • Liver or kidney disease patients should avoid this medication.
  • This drug should not be combined with any other sedative, such as Valium, Xanax, or any other similar anti-anxiety medication that has sedative effects.
  • If a patient has used MAO inhibitors over the last two weeks, they should avoid this drug until the MAO inhibitors have had sufficient time to clear from their system.
  • Studies have not been performed to determine safety in pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. It is best to avoid the drug if possible in these situations.
  • Alcohol use can exacerbate the effects of the drug and should be avoided.

Since this medication is likely to impair the patient’s judgement and thinking, they should avoid operating heavy machinery or doing anything that requires them to be alert for at least a few hours after using the drug.

Many medical conditions, traumatic accidents, and surgical procedures can result in episodes of chronic pain that can alter the day to day functioning of the patient. These situations can be hard to deal with until the pain is brought under control. The problem is that over-the-counter pain relievers and even some less dangerous prescription pain medications are often not powerful enough to deal with severe pain. The other common issue with this type of strong analgesic is that the effects wear off over time, leaving the patient susceptible to a serious addiction due to the need to increase their dosage to get the same relief from their pain. This can result in a vicious cycle for many patients, leading to a physical dependence on the medication for relief from pain. Since the real world effects of prescription drug addiction are very serious and potentially life-threatening, professional help in the form of addiction treatment should be sought in cases of addiction to any opioid-based prescription pain medication.


  • NIH News in Health: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/06/dealing-drug-problems
  • Scholastic: https://headsup.scholastic.com/students/prescription-pain-medications
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/fentanyl.html
  • United States Drug Enforcement Administration: https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl
  • MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605043.html
  • WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine
  • Fusion: https://interactive.fusion.net/death-by-fentanyl/
  • MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/druguseandaddiction.html
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-reversal-naloxone-narcan-evzio
  • National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre: https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/blog/powerful-opioid-fentanyl-poses-serious-risk-fatal-overdose

  • Author: Robert Castan
    SEPTEMBER 26, 2017

    Robert Castan is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at SpringBoard Recovery. Robert started his professional career as a house manager and has become an industry leader and trusted voice in the treatment world. He brings extensive knowledge of organizational growth, industry-leading outcomes, and comprehensive marketing to SpringBoard Recovery. Robert has been walking his own path of recovery for over 10 years. This path has truly driven his ambition to help make treatment available to others who are struggling with addiction. Robert finds great joy in traveling and keeping physically active, with an emphasis on biking. Robert resides in Arizona with his husband and two four-legged children.   The U.S. Alcohol Crisis, Still Deadlier Than the Opioid Epidemic   Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth Dire Mental Health: A Catalyst for Post-Pandemic Drug Addiction The Benefits of Rehab Center Staff Working Their Own Recovery Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Robert Castan on Successful Addiction Treatment and Entrepreneurship Castan: The road less traveled of addiction & recovery in Scottsdale Opioids & COVID Driving Phoenix’s Rising Fatal Drug Overdoses Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Successful Addiction Treatment Programs & Entrepreneurship

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