Fentanyl Overdose Signs, Dangers, and Treatment

Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic opioid, estimated to be 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Sometimes prescribed to treat severe or post-surgical pain, the drug is also manufactured and sold illicitly.1,2

Just a tiny amount of fentanyl is enough to cause a fatal overdose.3 An opioid overdose is a potentially fatal emergency that requires immediate medical attention.1,4 If you see someone experience the signs of an opioid overdose (below), call 911 immediately.5

Signs of Fentanyl Overdose

Anyone who uses fentanyl, or who is close to someone who does, should be prepared for an emergency and made aware of the overdose symptoms, even if the fentanyl is being taken by prescription for legitimate medical reasons.1,5

Signs of an opioid overdose include:4,5,6

  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Pinpoint (very small) pupils.
  • Slow, difficult, or stopped breathing.
  • Choking or gurgling noises.
  • Bluish or ashen tint to the skin (bluish in lighter skin and grayish/ashen in darker skin).
  • Limp body.
  • Slow or irregular pulse.

Knowing the fentanyl overdose signs and acting quickly may save someone’s life in the event of a fentanyl overdose.4

What to Do if Someone Overdoses on Fentanyl

If you witness an opioid overdose, you should immediately:4,5,6

  1. Call 911.
  2. Administer Narcan (naloxone) if it is available. Due to the high potency of fentanyl, multiple doses of naloxone, spaced 2 to 3 minutes apart may be needed.2,7 
  3. Support the patient’s breathing. Make sure their airway is clear, begin rescue breathing, and apply chest compressions.
  4. Roll the individual onto their side and bend their top knee to prevent them from choking on vomit.8
  5. Wait for emergency responders to arrive. Medical support is still needed even if the patient becomes responsive after receiving naloxone.

Narcan for Overdose

Narcan is an over-the-counter nasal spray containing naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdose, buying critical time for emergency services to arrive. Someone with little or no training can administer it and it will not affect someone who has not taken opioids.4,6

Nevada’s Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act also provides legal protection for minor drug offenses to individuals who act to help someone in an overdose situation, for example by administering naloxone.10,11 This means that if you’ve been using drugs with someone and they overdose or you have small amounts of drugs or paraphernalia on you, you do not have to fear arrest for calling 911 while staying with the individual who overdosed.10

Where Can I Get Narcan?

Naloxone is available in Nevada without a prescription. It may be sold at many pharmacies and retail stores.12

Many community harm reduction programs, like needle exchanges, distribute Narcan for free. The National Harm Reduction Coalition (NHRC) provides a map with locations distributing naloxone and other resources.

Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl

Fentanyl is considered a prescription opioid, however much of the fentanyl sold illegally is manufactured in clandestine labs.1,2

Any opioid—even when used for legitimate medical purposes—carries the risk of overdose. However, misusing opioids, especially illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) greatly increases the danger.12 IMF may be sold in several forms:

  • IMF may be sold on the street in white powder form. It may also be added to other street drugs. In fact, one of the leading causes of overdose death in the last decade has been the addition of IMF to heroin. IMF powder has now begun to appear in other drugs users may not expect to contain opioids, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.2,13
  • Liquid: IMF may be dropped onto blotter paper or put into nasal spray.2
  • Fake prescription pills: It is unlikely that a person will receive IMF instead of a prescription pill if their prescription is filled at a legitimate pharmacy. However, pills bought illegally may contain little to none of the medication advertised and may contain deadly amounts of fentanyl. IMF has been detected in many counterfeit prescription pills that are sold as other medications, such as opioid medications (e.g., oxycodone or hydrocodone) or benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax).14,15 The DEA recently reported that 26% of counterfeit prescription pills seized and tested contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl (at least 2 milligrams).16

While some people intentionally purchase fentanyl, many people who come into contact with the drug do so accidentally. Among people who purchase drugs on the black market, their accidental exposure to fentanyl often leads to overdose.2 A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that cocaine was involved in nearly 22% of synthetic opioid overdoses in 2016.17

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment in Las Vegas, NV

Fentanyl misuse is highly dangerous, but fentanyl addiction is treatable. Medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), behavioral therapy, peer support, and other evidence-based interventions can help someone get sober and remain in long-term recovery.18

If you or someone you care about are struggling with Fentanyl addiction, call  to learn more about our inpatient rehab in Las Vegas or outpatient drug rehab. Admissions navigators can help you start the admissions process today, explore ways to pay for rehab like using insurance to cover addiction treatment, or go over the different levels of rehab offered at Desert Hope.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Desert Hope is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is easily accessible from most locations in the Southwest. We offer a full continuum of care that spans from inpatient medical detox and rehab to outpatient services and sober living. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Vegas or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.