Fentanyl is a powerful opioid painkiller that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is a controlled substance due to its high risk of abuse and addiction. Fentanyl is prescribed to treat significant post-surgical pain as well as to manage various chronic pain situations. It is a valuable pain management tool in instances of breakthrough cancer pain and for patients who have grown physically tolerant to less powerful opioid medications 1,2.
Brand names for fentanyl include Actiq, Sublimaze, and Duragesic. In its various forms, patients may administer fentanyl as a patch on the skin, as an injection, or as an oral lozenge. On the street, fentanyl is found as a powder, tablet, or applied as a solution to blotter paper. With increasing frequency, heroin users may wind up unknowingly using fentanyl because drug dealers often substitute the prescription opioid for heroin. This is particularly dangerous because fentanyl is far more potent than heroin and the unwitting abuse of the substance can increase the risk of overdose and death 2. When fentanyl is diverted for the purposes of abuse, users often snort a powdered form of the opioid or dissolve it in water to inject it 1.
When a person becomes addicted to fentanyl, quitting can be challenging due to distressing withdrawal symptoms that appear with the cessation of or reduction in use. Professional detox programs can assist you throughout the withdrawal process by alleviating unpleasant symptoms and reducing cravings while providing you with 24-hour medical supervision.
This article will address the following aspects of detox:
- Fentanyl abuse and addiction.
- What is fentanyl detox?
- Is detox required?
- Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms.
- What happens at detox?
- Treatment after detoxification.
- Find a treatment program.
Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction
Struggling with Fentanyl
Someone using fentanyl for an extended period of time will likely develop significant tolerance to the drug. Once an individual develops tolerance, they require higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects as the lower doses previously produced. Chronic fentanyl abuse can lead to physical dependence too, which is the body’s adaptation to the presence of the drug. Someone who is dependent on fentanyl must take the opioid to prevent the emergence of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
While tolerance and physical dependence do not necessarily signal the presence of an addiction, they can contribute to compulsive fentanyl use and the eventual development of an addiction. When an individual becomes addicted to fentanyl, it can be difficult to quit on your own. Fentanyl detox can provide you with the support and care you need in order to comfortably withdraw from the drug.
If you or someone you know has an addiction to fentanyl, call our helpline at 11111 to speak to a caring support specialist about treatment and detox options.
What is Fentanyl Detox?
Many people do not fully understand the concept of a detoxification program. A professional drug detox protocol outlines various methods of managing the fentanyl withdrawal syndrome while the opioid clears from your system. Detox is a vital first step on the road to recovery, but it isn’t designed to rectify problematic behaviors associated with fentanyl abuse. Instead, it prepares you to enter a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program that can address the underlying issues influencing your fentanyl addiction.
Fentanyl detox may use several therapeutic interventions aimed at managing acute intoxication and the uncomfortable symptoms associated with fentanyl withdrawal syndrome 3. Detox programs may utilize any of the following potential interventions:
- Ongoing physical and mental health evaluations.
- Medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms and decrease cravings.
- Medical care to treat physical ailments.
- Education and preparation for recovery programs, such as outpatient and inpatient.
Detox can occur in a number of settings. Short-term detox programs can provide you with immediate and around-the-clock care while you withdraw from fentanyl and then prepare you to transition into a formal treatment program. Some treatment programs, such as in the inpatient or outpatient setting, provide detoxification as a part of the recovery program.
The length of detoxification depends on a number of factors, such as the dose of fentanyl typically used, the length of abuse, the presence of polysubstance abuse, and the individual’s unique physiology.
Is Detox Required?
For the majority of people addicted to fentanyl, a supervised detoxification is not technically necessary for safety, because opioid withdrawal symptoms are rarely life-threatening. However, the unmanaged physical symptoms of withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and may compel an immediate relapse in order to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to having medical oversight to manage withdrawal symptoms, a person can also benefit from the emotional support of a formal detox program to help manage the withdrawal process. It is not easy to detox from fentanyl without support as the cravings and symptoms can be severe.
Fentanyl Withdrawal Symptoms
Shortly after someone with a fentanyl addiction tries to suddenly quit the drug, the physical process of withdrawal begins. These symptoms are more serious in some people than in others, and the severity of withdrawal can depend on many factors, such as:
- The length of fentanyl addiction.
- The dose of fentanyl regularly used.
- The person’s overall health.
- Whether the person is also addicted to other substances, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines.
Fentanyl’s withdrawal syndrome is similar to that of other opioids. The following is a list of potential fentanyl withdrawal symptoms 4:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Muscle aches.
- Runny nose.
- Excessive sweating.
- Goose bumps or cold flashes.
- Increased sensitivity to pain.
What Happens At Detox?
Stages of Fentanyl Detox
Many people seeking treatment for fentanyl addiction may wonder what detox will be like. Detox is a three-part process that includes evaluation, stabilization, and entry into a treatment program. When free of complications, detox is usually a short-term process that only lasts a few days. However, for some people, the detox process can take longer if they are addicted to multiple substances or if the person has other health issues.
The three phases of detox include 2:
- Evaluation: When entering a program for detox from drug addiction, a person needs to undergo a thorough medical and psychological evaluation to determine how severe their physical addiction might be, including lab tests to detect the presence of fentanyl and any other drugs in their body and to screen for any other medical conditions that may complicate the process of detox.
- Stabilization: This phase occurs as fentanyl is allowed to clear from a person’s body while the person receives emotional and physical support to manage withdrawal and fentanyl cravings. Medications, such as Suboxone, which is a combination of buprenorphine and naltrexone, can be administered during this phase to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.
- Fostering entry into treatment: Detox is only the first component of recovery from fentanyl addiction, and entering treatment is a major component of any detox program. Physically withdrawing from a drug such as fentanyl will not stop the emotional issues that led to the addiction. It also will not help a person cope with ongoing cravings or learn healthy coping skills under stress. Detox serves as an introduction to the recovery process and links the person with a fentanyl addiction to an ongoing program of rehabilitation, treatment, and long-term recovery.
Treatment After Detoxification
Detox is only the beginning of treatment for drug addiction. Recovering from an addiction to fentanyl or any other drug is an ongoing process. An inpatient or outpatient treatment program provides patients with the opportunity to learn sober social skills, develop healthy coping skills, and learn to cope with triggers for relapse. There are numerous treatment options:
- Inpatient treatment is a common treatment after an initial period of detox. Inpatient treatment can last anywhere from 28 to 90 days and will involve individual therapy, group counseling, medication-assisted treatment, if necessary, and aftercare planning.
- Outpatient treatment can be a viable option for many people, either as an alternative to inpatient treatment or as a step-down after receiving inpatient treatment. Patients can live at home and fulfill school or work obligations while recovering from a fentanyl addiction.
- Luxury programs are a newer and more expensive option for treatment for addiction. These programs provide people with comfortable surroundings and can include additional features such as gourmet meals, massages, and spa treatment.
- Support groups, such as 12-step programs, are an important component of recovery. Introduction to the 12-step model usually occurs early in treatment to encourage the recovering person to continue long-term participation in support groups. Ongoing involvement in a support group helps to reinforce sober living and recovery.
Regardless of what type of program of treatment that a person enters for fentanyl addiction, the primary goals are to learn ways to prevent relapse, to increase social connections, and to learn to deal with emotions in a positive way.
Find a Treatment Program
If you or someone you know suffers from an addiction to fentanyl, don’t hesitate to call our helpline at 11111 to speak to a treatment support specialist about detox and recovery options.