03 Jan Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Overdose is currently the #1 cause of death—beating disease and car crashes—for the healthiest demographic of Americans. This harrowing fact is due to the opioid crisis in the US, which continues to blaze across our nation. With lawsuits against Big Pharma flaring, death on the horizon, and overdoses on the climb, one would imagine that it doesn’t get worse than this.
Unfortunately, it does. In the wake of our current fight against opioids (and opiates), the crisis has borne a new evil; fentanyl. If you’re reading this, then you probably know what we speak of. For those of you that haven’t heard of this deadly substance, then let’s bring you up to speed.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is the heaviest-hitting opioid, weighing in fifty times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine per microgram. It was developed as an end-all medication for late stage cancer patients, the terminally ill, and those with severe chronic pain. Being that it’s powerful beyond measure, drug dealers have heard the siren’s call and integrated the substance into their products (namely heroin and opioids).
Unfortunately, due to its chemical makeup, the side effect of fentanyl abuse is often overdose. While FDA approved fentanyl as a Schedule II drug, some of the substances we’re seeing on the streets are manufactured in China and Mexico by ‘street chemists,’ with no telling as to how powerful their batch will be. Many drug users will use their substance of choice without knowing it’s cut with fentanyl, only to overdose.
An overdose from fentanyl is merciless, often resulting in death. By the picture we’ve painted above, it’s safe to say that it’s hard to imagine a user with a fentanyl addiction explicitly using this drug in isolation. Yet, this is now a byproduct of the opioid crisis. If you or someone you know is using fentanyl and you’re here to identify withdrawal symptoms, then do know that this is the deadliest, most dangerous addiction our society currently has to offer.
How Is It Used?
The drug Fentanyl can be ingested via a transdermal patch, intravenously, through a nasal spray, or taken as a pill. The transdermal patch method is particularly effective for patients that have a difficulty swallowing (throat cancer). While snorting or smoking fentanyl usually leads to immediate overdose, it has occurred. The way fentanyl is used goes as follows:
- Transdermal Patch
- Nasal Spray
- Snorted or Smoked (Rare)
What Does Fentanyl Withdrawal Look Like?
As stated previously, it is a rare occurrence in which a user will be addicted solely to fentanyl. First, acquiring the Schedule II substance is no easy feat and drug dealers aren’t exactly selling it as a standalone. They use small doses of the deadly substance to make their products more potent, which is why fentanyl overdose has doubled every year from 2013-2016.
In which case, if someone is indeed using fentanyl in isolation, then their withdrawals will be an amplified version of what we’re going to discuss below. At its core, signs of fentanyl abuse and fentanyl withdrawals are mutually exclusive to that of opioids—which is a branch of heroin’s family tree.
Rehab facilities across the nation are now experts in opioid withdrawal, being that they witness new cases every day. We here at Georgia Detox are no novices ourselves, being that our state has felt the weight of the opioid crisis in mass effect.
Withdrawal symptoms are always going to differ user-to-user. The severity of these symptoms—or the type which are experienced—depends on the dependency, addiction, and health of the user. While we’ll paint with a broad stroke and explain what these withdrawal symptoms usually look like, it’s always case-dependent.
Before we continue, it’s paramount to understand that if you or someone you know are experiencing withdrawals from fentanyl addiction, it’s best to check into a facility or find somewhere with medical supervision. Fortunately, opioid withdrawals are unlike alcohol or benzodiazepines (they can cause complications but rarely death). Unfortunately, they’re among the most merciless withdrawals that can often send the user reeling towards relapse.
The early stages of fentanyl withdrawal are, as aforementioned, like opioids. Being that both opioids and fentanyl are slow-acting substances, it may take an entire day after the last dose before the user begins to experience withdrawals. In the earlier stage of fentanyl withdrawal (1-3 days), the user can experience:
1-3 Days, Stage A
- Agitation: the user will feel agitated, on edge, and restless
- Aches: from muscle aches, to spasm and chest pain, pain in the body begins to take effect
- Insomnia: in the early stages, sleeping can be nearly impossible
- Sweating, heat flashes: as the body attempts to detox, it treats the situation like an infection, raising body temperature to fight it
Once the early stage is out of the way, then we come to the worst part; Stage B. This is where both the mind and body begin to crave fentanyl, panicking in its absence. This stage is where it’s best to have professional supervision, as healthcare experts can assist the process, easing the symptoms and ensuring nothing goes wrong.
3-5 Days, Stage B
- Extreme Mood Swings: from depression, paranoia, anger, to anxiety—as the brain tries to rebalance its natural set of neurotransmitters the user can experience massive mood fluctuations
- Bone & Muscle Pain: the aches from the previous stage transform into a pain that often feels deep and relentless
- Diarrhea & Vomiting: the flagship withdrawal symptom of heroin and opioids, the stomach can fall into an extreme state where it pushes everything out. This is where it becomes evermore important to remain hydrated and in the care of a professional, seeing as this symptom is the main driver of relapse
- Runny Nose: from eyes that might continuously leak, sweat, to a runny nose, the body is fully detoxing from the fentanyl
While the above may seem intense, they usually last for a brief period and when they’re gone, it’s no longer an uphill battle. The end of Stage B signifies something wonderful; the fentanyl user has gone through the worst of it and beat it. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going.’
Once this period is over, all symptoms will begin to wane and the body will begin to function normally. There is typically a ‘hangover’ period which will last anywhere from 1-3 weeks, although it varies person-to-person.
In the last stage of fentanyl withdrawal, a user can expect:
1-3 Weeks, Stage C
- The physical symptoms will subside, waning into an obsolete state. No longer will the withdrawal take hold of the body as it once did, those feelings will die out.
- Mental fatigue will ensue but so will positive feelings, being that the person has detoxed and made it through withdrawal. While this is a wonderful milestone, it’s also important to note that once a user begins to feel better, they may ‘force’ themselves to forget what withdrawal was like, rendering themselves prime for relapse.
- Alas, the user will experience both clarity and supreme health (being that they were under the influence of opioids for an extended period of time).
Once this period is over, it becomes time to create a long-term strategy for sobriety. Hell has been conquered but what many call the real battle begins afterwards, where infrastructure needs to be created in order to resist temptations, refrain from relapsing, and learning to live a lifestyle devoid of drug use.
Dangers of Fentanyl
There is a strong possibility that a user could be reading this wondering what’s in store for them if they were to quit using opioids or fentanyl. In which case, it’s wise that we address the dangers of fentanyl in particular and highlight just how quickly it has become a grim reaper in our society.
Fentanyl and Overdose
It’s 2011 and there are around 1500 overdoses explicitly linked to fentanyl. It’s not a good number but it doesn’t necessarily turn heads. Come 2014 and there are 4,000 overdose deaths linked to the substance. As if that doesn’t raise an alarm, in 2016 the number climbed to 18,000.
The problem here, interestingly enough, is not that people are using fentanyl more. It’s that it’s being mishandled. Truth be told, there’s an argument to be made that fentanyl is the most dangerous drug to be addicted to in existence. Unfortunately, a majority of these overdose cases occur without the user knowing they’re taking such a deadly substance.
Last year, around 30,000 overdose deaths were linked to fentanyl and that number is expected to nearly double again come 2019. We don’t have a handle on the problem and it’s spreading like wildfire.
Outside of the obvious risk of death—made evermore apparent by the substance at hand—the simple fact is that opioids are detrimental to the body and brain. Being that drug users typically use said substances with others, the risks are endless.
Opioids depress the CNS (Central Nervous System). Other drugs like alcohol and benzodiazepines do the same thing. When coupled with similar-functioning substances or taken in surplus in isolation, the risks include but are not limited to:
- Respiratory Failure
- Cardiovascular Failure
Quitting ‘cold turkey’ is a form of detox that has been recommended for ages. From cigarettes, booze, to any other type of drug, completely removing the substance on your own and biting the bullet is a method that people advocate. Unfortunately, drugs like heroin are notoriously difficult to ‘kick’ being that the withdrawals can be so intense. Taking into consideration that fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and there’s a point to be made here.
Assisted detox can be either outpatient or inpatient, with the latter being recommended for this form of drug addiction. Medical professionals will evaluate the severity of the addiction, create a forecast for the withdrawals and establish a strategy thereafter. This can include weaning the user off the drug through medication, then monitoring them while they’re inhouse and going through withdrawals.
While health complications can arise—particularly with dehydration, insomnia, and extreme diarrhea—the issue is that fentanyl withdrawals often send a user reeling back into drug use and addiction. Through an inpatient program, the medical professionals at Georgia Detox can lighten the symptoms, monitor the patient, and ensure that they are as comfortable as possible.
Being that fentanyl is the most dangerous drug currently on the street, it’s important that the patient not only beats the withdrawals but remains sober in the long-term. Continuing the use of this substance will almost always result in a seriously negative outcome. We’re here to rewrite that narrative.
In some cases—especially if they’re severe—fentanyl will be replaced by a substitute opioid during the detox process. This medication will be monitored and administered by a professional and it’ll work to not send the body into a state of shock (like going cold turkey). These types of opioids will help reduce withdrawal symptoms without producing the euphoria that made the drug attractive in the first place.
While this may take a bit longer than quitting opioids altogether, it is often the only viable route. Additionally, it will help the brain begin to regulate its neurotransmitters (chemicals responsible for emotional wellbeing) on its own. As the patient is ‘tapered,’ the brain begins to realize it can function normally in the absence of opioids, thus already healing itself.
This is incredibly important being that this neurotransmitter depletion is what makes the psychological process of withdrawals difficult. The above points are touched on because, as aforementioned, fentanyl is the end-all drug healthcare professionals across the industry want to get rid of.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a fentanyl addiction, the time to reach out for help is now. Unlike other addictions, this one creates a paradigm of day-to-day life or death. While certain substances push on with the steady movement of a train, running forward until the user is addicted, the powerful nature of fentanyl is all-encompassing, merciless, and dangerous.
The time to act is now. Better yet, it’s the best time to do so; opioid and fentanyl addiction have never been more understood, better treated, and easier to manage than current times. You’re not alone and you’ll never be. You can beat this.
“Fentanyl Addiction, Abuse and Treatment.” Addiction Centers. 20 Feb. 2019. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/fentanyl/
“Fentanyl Withdrawal.” American Addiction Centers. 15 Mar. 2019. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/fentanyl
“Fentanyl Withdrawal.” Dual Diagnosis. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.dualdiagnosis.org/fentanyl-risks/withdrawal