Effects & Dangers of Fentanyl Addiction

The epidemic of illicit fentanyl and street drugs laced with fentanyl poses dangerous and potentially life-threatening risks.1 By itself, illicit fentanyl can pose serious health risks, and these can be increased if a person also uses other substances along with fentanyl.2

Keep reading to learn more about fentanyl effects, including the impact of different routes of administration, other fentanyl risks and risks associated with fentanyl-laced drugs, and how to find treatment.

Effects of Fentanyl Use

Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine.3 Its potency carries numerous fentanyl health risks, including increased addiction potential.2,3

Immediate fentanyl side effects include:2

  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Profound sedation.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Fentanyl is most often used in combination with other drugs, like heroin, and may be smoked, snorted, or injected. These routes of use carry their own health risks.

Smoking Fentanyl Effects

People may smoke fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs because they feel it is safer than injecting the drug5 and provides a more rapid onset of the short-term effects of fentanyl and/or the substances it is mixed with.4 Smoking fentanyl, or substances laced with fentanyl, is associated with numerous pulmonary effects as well as other adverse health effects.5

The risks of smoking fentanyl-laced drugs include:5-7

  • Respiratory illness.
  • Lung damage.
  • Airway complications, such as pneumothorax or pneumomediastinum.
  • Opioid-induced spongiform leukoencephalopathy, a rare neurological condition.
  • Pulmonary bullous changes, resulting in lung damage.
  • Non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs.
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage.
  • Depressed immunity.
  • An increased risk of developing infectious diseases.
  • Diffuse alveolar hemorrhage, a rare condition causing hemoptysis, acute anemia, diffuse lung infiltration, and acute respiratory failure.

Snorting Fentanyl Effects

Someone may inadvertently snort fentanyl when they are using a drug like cocaine that is laced with fentanyl. Additionally, people may use fentanyl and/or fentanyl-laced drugs intranasally because it can produce a quicker onset of effects, but this method of use is also associated with several fentanyl health risks.

The dangers of snorting fentanyl can include:4,5

  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Coma.
  • An increased risk of addiction.
  • Perforated septum.
  • Nasal tissue damage and necrosis, or tissue death.
  • Sinus necrosis.
  • Soft palate necrosis.
  • Non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema.
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage.
  • Depressed immunity.

Injecting Fentanyl Effects

Injecting fentanyl means people use it intravenously or via a method known as skin popping, where a person injects the drug subcutaneously (just below the skin).5 These methods of use are associated with numerous fentanyl dangers.

The risks of injecting fentanyl include:4,5,8

  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Coma.
  • An increased risk of addiction.
  • Risk of infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis B and C.
  • An increased risk of overdose.
  • Abscesses.
  • Endocarditis, or inflammation of the lining of the heart.
  • Septic emboli, a type of embolism that is infected with bacteria.
  • Vocal cord paralysis.
  • Muscle rigidity.
  • Granulomatous changes.
  • Necrotizing fasciitis, a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection.

Other Risks of Fentanyl Use

The primary fentanyl dangers and long-term effects of fentanyl are dependence, addiction, and an increased risk of overdose.2

When someone is dependent on a substance, their body has adapted to the presence of the drug and needs it to feel or function normally. When use is abruptly slowed or stopped, withdrawal symptoms emerge.

Addiction is marked by the continued compulsive use of a substance despite adverse consequences. Fentanyl addiction is diagnosed as an opioid use disorder (OUD).9 People with OUD continue to use opioids like fentanyl despite the negative consequences.9

Fentanyl Overdose

A fentanyl overdose is a potentially life-threatening emergency.2 Someone who is overdosing may display the following signs:10

  • Unconsciousness or inability to awaken.
  • Slow or shallow breathing or difficulty breathing such as choking sounds or a gurgling/snoring noise from someone who cannot be awakened.
  • Fingernails or lips turning blue/purple.
  • Pinpointed pupils or pupils that don’t react to light.

If you suspect that someone is overdosing, you should:10

  • Call 911 right away, making sure to following their instructions.
  • Try to wake the person up by calling their name or rubbing your knuckles on their upper lip or chest.
  • Administer naloxone (Narcan, Klaxxado), if you have access to it.
  • Put the person in the recovery position (on their side with their top leg bent).
  • Do not leave the person alone. Wait for emergency medical services to arrive.

Risks of Fentanyl-Laced Drugs

Fentanyl is increasingly mixed with other street drugs, often unbeknownst to the user, which can increase the risk of potentially fatal overdose because people may be using a much more potent opioid than they are used to.2

Polysubstance use can occur when people intentionally mix fentanyl with other substances, or unintentionally use it, such as when they don’t know they are using a substance that is laced with fentanyl.11 When someone uses fentanyl in combination with other substances, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methamphetamine, or prescription opioids, it is particularly hazardous because it can increase the risk of overdose and death.11,12

Fentanyl Rehab in Las Vegas

If you or a loved one are struggling with fentanyl misuse or addiction, we are here to help. Desert Hope, our inpatient rehab in Las Vegas, offers a variety of levels of addiction treatment and provides different types of rehab to suit all needs. Please reach out to our admissions navigators at to learn more about your rehab options or get admitted today.

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