The Fentanyl Trip: The Drug That Is More Lethal Than Heroin

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It’s typically prescribed to treat severe pain after surgery, an injury, or for terminally ill cancer patients, but it’s also being used recreationally. Heroin addicts are at risk of heroin being cut with fentanyl for extra potency, and just three milligrams, the equivalent of a few grains of salt, can be deadly. It’s considered so dangerous that even touching fentanyl powder could kill you.

Because such an extremely small amount is required to have a powerful effect, it can be easily pressed into counterfeit pills. It has also become popular because of its low cost compared with prescription pills, like oxycontin, which fueled an opioid epidemic and was featured in the series Dopesick.

One of the reasons fentanyl is more dangerous than heroin is because it enters the bloodstream much more quickly. This means users risk overdosing faster and experiencing intense and painful withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. And if you buy it from street dealers, illegal fentanyl is often made in Chinese labs. There is no regulation regarding its composition, so it can be even more potent and unpredictable.

In addition to being much stronger than heroin, fentanyl is also more addictive.  While a heroin overdose causes a higher number of deaths, addiction to prescription opioids like fentanyl is killing users at an alarming rate. If you have asthma or any type of lung condition, fentanyl is even more dangerous as it can cause respiratory depression, causing you to stop breathing. This can also happen even if you have no respiratory problems.

How to Spot a Fentanyl Overdose

A fentanyl overdose can lead to death very quickly. Call 999 or seek immediate medical attention if you take fentanyl and experience:

  • a fit or seizure
  • stiff muscles
  • difficulty breathing, or slow, shallow breathing
  • decreased consciousness
  • tightness in your chest
  • difficulty swallowing
  • swelling of your mouth, lips, tongue, throat, or face
  • hallucinations or delirium

Fentanyl Addiction and Withdrawal Symptoms

Even just after one dose fentanyl can lead to addiction, and the longer you take it, the harder it will be to stop. If you want to stop using fentanyl, it can be dangerous to just try to quit without medical supervision. Not only will it be extremely unpleasant, but withdrawal symptoms can also cause heart failure.

Common physical withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl include:

  • severe diarrhoea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • involuntary leg movements
  • tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • insomnia and sleep disturbance
  • elevated body temperature
  • sweating and chills
  • intense muscle and bone pain

Withdrawal symptoms typically start about 8 to 24 hours after your final time using. They peak at around 36 to 72 hours and usually last for one to two weeks. However, once the physical withdrawal symptoms have passed, it is likely you will have intense cravings, which can last for several months or longer.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment can be accessed through the NHS by speaking with your GP or contacting FRANK. Alternatively, you will need to pay for private treatment for fast access to residential rehab. In outpatient addiction treatment and residential rehab, the first step in fentanyl addiction treatment will involve a medically supervised detox. During this, medications can be prescribed to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and make you more comfortable. Addiction treatment will also include various types of therapy to help you cope with the reasons and behaviours that led you to abuse fentanyl.

This drug is extremely dangerous, and if you have a heroin addiction, you may also end up taking fentanyl. If you or someone you care about is struggling with fentanyl or heroin addiction, addiction helplines can provide guidance and support. Below are the leading UK addiction support helplines.

DrugFam lifeline (for family, friends, and partners): 0300 888 3853

Adfam: 020 3817 9410

Narcotics Anonymous: 0300 999 1212

Talk to Frank: 0300 123 6600

If you are in a crisis situation, the Samaritans provide emotional support 24/7: 116 123 (24/7)

The Cruise Bereavement Care helpline provides emotional support to anyone who has suffered a bereavement: 0808 808 1677