Fentanyl Overdose

Fentanyl is stronger than morphine and causes thousands of overdoses. Learn more about fentanyl overdose in this article.

Table of Contents

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a manufactured opioid. Unlike other opioids that occur naturally, fentanyl is made in a lab and is often one hundred times more potent than morphine.1 It is a prescription drug that can also be illegally made, and it is often mixed or “cut” with other drugs.  

What Does It Treat?

Fentanyl is prescribed for pain relief following severe injuries. It has multiple routes of administration. Due to its intense effects, the likelihood of developing fentanyl dependency is high. 

Drug Class

Fentanyl is an opioid narcotic. It is most like morphine but far more intense. Other opioids include opium, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and more.

Brand Names

Brand names for fentanyl include Actiq, Duragesic, Subsys, and Fentora. It is prescribed by doctors and may be covered by insurance. Typically, fentanyl is prescribed for short-term relief. 

Street Names

Fentanyl goes by many illegal names, including but not limited to the following: China girl, Chinatown, Dance Fever, Tango and Cash, Goodfellas, and Friend.

Drug Schedule

Fentanyl is a Schedule II drug implying high rates of abuse and chance of dependency. For comparison, cocaine is also a Schedule II drug.

How is Fentanyl Used?

Fentanyl has one primary legal use: pain relief. It is often prescribed to patients to whom other opioids have proven ineffective. 


Fentanyl can be administered a patch that releases medication at set intervals, which helps control the addictive effects and serves to prevent overwhelming a person with fentanyl’s intense effects. The patch will likely be administered by a doctor.5 Other forms of fentanyl come as lozenges or as a shot. 


Illegal fentanyl is used purely to get high. The most common methods of using fentanyl illegally are listed below.


Snorting fentanyl gets it into the bloodstream quicker and producers faster-acting high. However, snorting fentanyl causes the high to wear off faster than other methods.6


Injecting fentanyl takes longer but can produce a longer-lasting high. That said, intravenous drug use has added risk. Many drug-dependent individuals may share needles which can lead to high rates of infection and health complications. Injecting a drug also leaves behind “track marks,” or visible scars from frequent needle use.


As recently as 2021, the rate of smoking fentanyl has gone up.7 This increase is widely attributed to drug-dependent people’s inability to find new veins for injection. 

Carfentanil vs. Fentanyl

Carfentanil is like fentanyl in terms of effect and use. However, carfentanil is approximately one hundred times stronger than fentanyl.8 It is usually reserved for large animals like elephants. Carfentanil, due to its potency, is far more addictive and lethal than fentanyl. 

How to Get Fentanyl Out of Your System

You may wonder, “how long does fentanyl stay in your system?” Fentanyl can stay in the system for up to ninety-six hours.9 Additionally, there are not many feasible ways to speed that timeframe up.

Unlike other drugs, severe fentanyl withdrawal can occur within hours of last use. It can cause cramping, confusion, pain, vomiting, and nausea. The intense effects of fentanyl withdrawal combined with the short time until withdrawal makes quitting fentanyl difficult. When combined with other drugs like alcohol or marijuana, the withdrawal effects and high can be intensified. 

The Dangers of Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a dangerous drug that is highly monitored and abused. Moreover, fentanyl use is on the rise, as are fentanyl overdose signs. It is vital to learn how to spot the signs of a fentanyl overdose, as knowing this information can save lives. 

Why is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

The biggest factor that makes fentanyl dangerous is its high potency. For reference, morphine is extremely addictive, and its use has been related to widespread addiction in the 1800s and 1900s. Fentanyl is one hundred times more potent. Like other addictive drugs, namely alcohol and cocaine, fentanyl produces high levels of dopamine in the brain, which can rewire brain chemistry causing cravings, tolerance, and dependency. This brain alteration can happen within only one use of the drug.

Another major factor is that fentanyl is often cut with a variety of other hard drugs such as ecstasy, MDMA, heroin, and cocaine, all of which can cause severe health complications on their own. 

What Happens During a Fentanyl Overdose?

Once a person shows signs of a fentanyl overdose, their bodily systems begin to fail. An overdose can disrupt brain chemistry to the point of causing confusion, agitation, and breathing problems.10 Even surviving an overdose can cause long-term health complications such as faulty heart valves and brain damage caused by an impaired central nervous system. 

Fentanyl Overdose Statistics

These are the hard numbers of overdose statistics.

  • Over 35,000 people died from fentanyl overdose symptoms in 2019.11
  • Fentanyl overdoses increased 16% between 2018-2019.11
  • Fentanyl overdoses twelve times between 2013 and 2019.11
  • Less than 10% of fentanyl users seek or have access to treatment. 12
  • More than 70% of drug-related deaths are caused by opioids.12
  • Over sixty-two million people worldwide are opioid-dependent.12
  • Ninety-three thousand people died from an overdose in 2020.13  

Fentanyl Overdose Signs

A person experiencing signs of fentanyl overdose will display extreme confusion, labored breathing, agitation, slurred words, loss of coordination, an inability to stay awake, choking, and may become entirely unresponsive. 

Rapid Speed of Onset

Fentanyl’s high potency, a common occurrence of being ingested unknowingly, can cause an immediate overdose. A fast-acting overdose decreases the chances of survival as emergency services may be called too late. 


Cross-reactions occur when two or more drugs are active in the body at once. Cross-reactions can complicate treatment and intensify the effects of either substance. As such, the chance of showing signs of a fentanyl overdose is increased. 


Both alcohol and fentanyl are depressants, meaning they slow down the central nervous system or CNS. When the central nervous system is depressed too far, breathing becomes difficult and a condition called hypoxia can occur. Hypoxia prevents the body from processing oxygen resulting in suffocation and brain damage.14 


Xanax is a sedative and, as such, can cause similar effects to alcohol. However, the greatest danger of Xanax and fentanyl is the risk that Xanax has been cut with fentanyl. Fentanyl is often sold as Xanax because it is easier to obtain. This issue can result in people taking large amounts of fentanyl under the belief that it is Xanax medication. The same problem can be said for Ativan and Klonopin. 

Emergency Treatment for Overdose

Medication to treat severe fentanyl overdoses is still being developed, but there are numerous ways to assist. However, the best method is and will always be avoiding fentanyl use. 

What to Do While Waiting for 911 Response

Fentanyl overdose amounts can vary. The most important thing to do when waiting for emergency services is to stay calm and pay attention to the signs of a fentanyl overdose. Open windows to increase airflow and do not try to move the person and do not administer other drugs to them.

There is a misconception that uppers like cocaine can counteract the effects of sedatives when they will only complicate the matter. If a person is passed out from drug use, avoiding giving them fluids or food as these could obstruct airways and lead to suffocation and choking. Give them as much space as possible should their overdose turn violent. 


Naltrexone works by blocking the receptors that fentanyl and other drugs bind to, thereby preventing the dosage from being absorbed into the body.15 Naltrexone is often administered on the way to the hospital, but it can also be used to prevent relapse among patients in recovery. Like other drugs, the body can build a tolerance to Naltrexone which can make it less likely to work in an emergency. 

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment at The PAC Program

We at The PAC Program offer various drug recovery options, including but not limited to the following. 


A detox allows for a person to filter out fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs in a medical environment. Fentanyl overdose symptoms can cause extreme mood imbalances that worsen during withdrawal. A person’s vitals are monitored in a medical environment, and IV nutrients are applied as needed to help soothe those symptoms. 

Medication-assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment or MAT is a long-term plan to reduce cravings and help balance out hormones. Fentanyl addiction treatment helps a person gradually repair their drug-ravished bodies and start the road to recovery.  

Inpatient and Outpatient Care

Inpatient treatment is a safe, secure environment used to help a person quit drugs. It is typically a program that lasts anywhere from one to six months. Alternatively, outpatient treatment allows a person to go to work and home as normal but requires scheduled check-ins to monitor vitals and talk about long-term plans for recovery and facts about fentanyl overdose signs. 


One of the most beneficial forms of recovery is therapy. In therapy, a person can learn what led them to drugs, their emotional triggers, and how to spot the signs of fentanyl overdose and relapse. It also gives them the mental fortitude required to sustain sobriety by teaching healthy coping mechanisms. 


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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