According to drug addiction specialist Drew Pinsky, fentanyl played a role in the deaths of Prince, Tom Petty, and Michael Jackson.

You have most likely heard about fentanyl in the news or on social media, but are unsure what fentanyl actually is, or does. Here is a comprehensive guide to five things you didn’t know about fentanyl.

What Is Fentanyl?

Often heard about due to its rise in popularity, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic. While it is like morphine, it is more potent. In fact, depending on who you ask, it is between 50 to 800 times more powerful.

According to Drug Facts:

It is a schedule II prescription drug, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.

Prescription forms are Sublimaze, Actiq, and Duragesic. These are ingested in a variety of ways such as nasal sprays, transdermal patches, lozenges, and injections.

On the street, fentanyl has a variety of names, such as:

  • China Girl
  • Murder 8
  • Tango and Cash
  • China White
  • Jackpot
  • Apache
  • Goodfella
  • TNT

These names are for fentanyl-laced heroin or cocaine, as well as fentanyl by itself. Some combine fentanyl with heroin or substitute it for heroin and sometimes cocaine. Other forms include powder, tablets, or spiked on blotter paper.

Fentanyl’s Impact on Today’s Society

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists staggering statistics. According to an article, U.S. drug overdose deaths continue to rise; increase fueled by synthetic opioids:

“Drug overdoses killed almost 64K people in 2016.”

While overall drug overdose death rates increased by almost 22 percent, “The overdose death rate from synthetic opioids (other than methadone) more than doubled, likely driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF).”

Reports taken from state authorities after an overdose show an increase in synthetic opioids, with many people testing positive for fentanyl. These reports do not equal rates of valid prescriptions. This may show that the increase is due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Fentanyl has no specific demographic. It affects the rich and the poor, as well as the famous like Prince, Tom Petty, and Michael Jackson.

Some overdoses are due to somebody being unaware of the fentanyl combination in a drug. For instance, a person may feel that they know their limit on how much cocaine they can handle. If fentanyl is part of the cocaine, they may overdose.

The Effects of Fentanyl and Why People Take It

Fentanyl is legally acquired with a prescription and it is usually taken for pain relief. The short-term effects including relaxation, euphoria, and reduced pain.

Yet, fentanyl is also acquired illegally. It is sometimes taken for a legitimate reason such as pain relief, although not prescribed by a doctor. This is still illegal, for obvious reasons.

Other ways that people come in contact with fentanyl is when it has been combined with heroin or cocaine. This serves to amplify the high and puts the user at great risk of overdose.

Whether for legitimate pain or for an illegal high, fentanyl is highly addictive and highly dangerous.

How Fentanyl Affects the Brain and Body

The side effects of fentanyl use mimic those of opioid abuse. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Physical weakness
  • Shallow or irregular breathing
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Confusion
  • Constricted pupils
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Rigid muscles

In the same way that opioids work, fentanyl binds the opioid receptors. This is the part of the brain that controls emotions and pain. What happens is that the dopamine levels rise in the brain’s reward area. This is what causes relaxation and euphoria.

The problem is that these receptors are also found in the areas of the brain that control breathing rate. As with any opioid, with too high of a dose, breathing can stop completely and lead to death.

Fentanyl also makes changes in the brain and body that can lead to addiction. Your brain creates dopamine naturally, but certain drugs like opioids and fentanyl stimulate the dopamine. This tricks your brain into thinking it does not have to create the dopamine. This continues until the user only derives pleasure from the drug itself.

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How to Treat Fentanyl Addiction

There are two important aspects of treating fentanyl addiction — detoxification and rehabilitation.

Detox is imperative so that the drug is out of your system. Medical monitoring and medication helps ensure a safe and more comfortable environment, as opposed to doing it on your own.

A rehab program is equally important. This allows you or a loved one to cope with the issues that may have caused the addiction in the first place. Co-occurring substance use disorder or mental health conditions may also be a factor. And this is addressed in rehabilitation.

Overcoming Fentanyl Addiction

It is possible to overcome a fentanyl addiction and lead a drug-free life. Our Transformations Treatment Center addiction professionals can help you overcome your addiction and be on the path to recovery. Contact us now if you or someone you love is struggling with a fentanyl addiction. We are here to help and show you that life is possible without drugs.

NIDA. (2016, June 3). Fentanyl. Retrieved from on 2019, January 8

Transformations Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse. Retrieved from on 2019, January 8.

CDC (March 29, 2018). U.S. drug overdose deaths continue to rise; increase fueled by synthetic opioids. Retrieved from on 2019, January 8.