Cornerstone of Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab
Why is Fentanyl So Dangerous?
Author: Cornerstone of Southern California
Published: May 22, 2020
fentanyl crystals by a U.S penny

Fentanyl is so lethal because it’s 150 times more potent than morphine, and the chances of overdosing are greater.

Deaths from drug overdoses have been on a steady increase over the last 20 years, mainly because of fentanyl. The graph below from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows drug overdose deaths from 1999 to 2018, broken down by types of drugs. You can see the sharp spike in fentanyl overdose deaths since 2013 (yellow line).

In California, opioids were responsible for 45% of all drug overdose deaths (which is less than the 70% of overdose deaths nationwide), or about 2,400 people in 2018. Fentanyl overdose deaths from illegal sources increased, while deaths from prescription fentanyl decreased.

Let’s pause here to recap: Deaths from drug overdoses are increasing. Deaths from fentanyl-related overdoses are increasing especially in non-prescription forms. If you take street drugs laced with fentanyl, whether it was made legally or illicitly, you are putting yourself in great danger. If you take prescription drugs that were not intended for you, you are putting yourself in great danger.

Our hotline is available 24 hours a day, and our staff is well-versed in the dangers and side effects of fentanyl. Call and speak to someone.

Read more: Fentanyl Rehab

What is Fentanyl? And, Is Fentanyl an Opioid?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain medication that can be prescribed by a doctor to manage severe pain. It is classified as “opiate agonist,” along with heroin, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, opium and oxycodone. 

MISUSE of fentanyl and other narcotic drugs can lead to addiction, injury, overdose and death.

Fentanyl was developed in the 1960s as an anesthetic, and one of its uses was with oxygen for patients undergoing open heart surgery. Researchers found that fentanyl with oxygen produced fewer side effects than morphine and other drugs with oxygen during surgery. In fact, one research paper predicted that fentanyl would remain a popular choice for surgeons because of its “minimal effect on most organ systems.” Yikes! Today we know that fentanyl can have a dangerous adverse effect especially on the respiratory system, causing users to have difficulty breathing. 

What is Fentanyl Used For?

Today fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, including chronic pain from cancer. When prescribed by a physician to manage pain, it is dosed through injection, transdermal patch, nasal spray or lozenge. 

Street drugs laced with illegally manufactured fentanyl are sold as recreational drugs or combined with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine. These combinations are even more dangerous and potentially lethal. As you use heroin or cocaine, you build up a tolerance and become more addicted to the drugs requiring higher doses more frequently; therefore, some people add fentanyl to boost the effects.

How is Fentanyl Mixed With Other Drugs?

Fentanyl should not be mixed with other drugs, and it should never be taken unless prescribed by and supervised by a physician. 

Street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ketamine and methamphetamine have been reported to be laced with fentanyl, making for lethal combinations. We have also known cases of marijuana laced with fentanyl. The combinations can be especially dangerous to someone who is not a regular drug user. 

Doctors are told that fentanyl-related drugs should never be prescribed to patients as their first introduction to opiates. The drug is intended for someone who has progressed through opiates and who continues to suffer with chronic pain (as a cancer patient does). This is why you may have heard overdosing stories of young people who weren’t known to have substance use disorders. 

Let’s recap again: People with and without opioid tolerances have overdosed and died from fentanyl.  

What Are Fentanyl’s Side Effects?

According to, the side effects from fentanyl include fevers, respiratory depression (difficulty breathing), nausea and vomiting, and diaphoresis (excessive sweating). 

If any of the following side effects appear, let your doctor know or seek medical help: black/tarry stools, blurry vision, chest pain, confusion, convulsions, difficulty or labored breathing, dizziness, fainting, fever and chills, dry mouth and thirstiness, lightheadedness, loss of appetite, pain in the lower back or side, mood changes or depression, muscle pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting, nervousness, numbness or tingling, urination problems, pale skin, ears pounding, swelling in your extremities, unusual bleeding or bruising, fatigue, and ulcers or sores in your mouth.

There are more severe adverse side effects from fentanyl, including seizures, blackouts, lethargy, hallucinations, shakiness, severe sleep disturbances, confusion and clumsiness. If you experience these or other severe symptoms, seek medical help right away.

Get help: Alcohol Rehab Orange County

Withdrawal from Fentanyl

Withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl can also be severe and dangerous, which is why detoxing from opioids under the care of a medical professional is advised.

Symptoms can include severe cravings, mood swings and anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, sweating, shaking, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain and cramps, chills, runny nose, watery eyes. 

Related: Fentanyl Detox

Do not try to manage opioid withdrawal at home on your own, without advice from your doctor or a trained medical professional with experience in substance use disorders and detoxification. Our staff at Cornerstone has been working with people who struggle with opioid addiction and abuse, and our medical detox process is safe and supervised.

While we want to encourage anyone who needs help getting through withdrawal, we don’t recommend that you do it alone or without the advice and supervision of medical staff.  

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