Fentanyl is an extremely strong painkiller, similar to morphine, but between 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a schedule II prescription opioid, which means that doctors only prescribe it to patients who have severe pain, to manage pain after surgery, or to those who have chronic pain and whose bodies are tolerant to other opioids.

Fentanyl was first synthesised in 1960 by Belgian scientist Paul Janssen. It has been used medically since 1968, but has only recently gained notoriety in recent years thanks to the part it has played in the United States’ ongoing opioid crisis.

As with other opioid painkillers, it works by mimicking endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – blocking pain signals from the brain and making patients feel good. For this reason, fentanyl is highly addictive, making it a dangerous substance even when prescribed.

The reason that it has caused so many overdoses and deaths in recent years, though, is that it is very harmful if the wrong dose or strength is used, and it is far too easy to do so. Extremely potent, to the point where people have been known to die from having a small amount of the drug come into contact with their skin, it takes a comparatively small amount of fentanyl to cause an overdose. Still, it is easy to manufacture, and easy to find, so drug dealers are increasingly using it to cut other substances to keep prices low and the effects strong.

Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose vary from person to person, but can include:

– Slow and difficult breathing


-Nausea and vomiting

-Increased blood pressure


How Is Fentanyl Taken?

There are a variety of ways in which fentanyl can be taken. When prescribed by a doctor, fentanyl can be injected, applied as a patch onto the patient’s skin, or given as lozenges for the patient to such like a cough sweet.

When used illegally, fentanyl is sold as a powder or pills (often made to look like prescription drugs), dropped onto blotter paper or put into nasal sprays. Some drug dealers are mixing fentanyl with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, as they only need to use very little fentanyl to create a high, and the drug is cheap and easy to produce. This is where the danger lies for those who unknowingly take fentanyl, as they may be used to certain drugs and be aware of their tolerance, making it all too easy to overdose when fentanyl is in the mix.


Fentanyl Addiction

All opioids are known to cause physical and psychological dependence, and fentanyl is no different. Whilst many people mistake dependence for addiction, it is actually just one of the causes of it, rather than the condition itself.

With dependence, the body and brain become used to the presence of a substance, and over time becomes reliant on it to continue functioning normally. When a person stops taking a substance, the body reacts badly to missing this substance, causing a host of side effects (or ‘withdrawal symptoms’) that can make it uncomfortable or downright painful to continue on without the substance.

Fentanyl is particularly addictive when prescribed by a doctor, as patients may not realise that what they are being given has these negative effects long term. If they up their dose incrementally over time or feel that they cannot cope without it after their treatment has concluded, they may feel the need to seek it out through illegal avenues.


Opioid Use In The UK

One of the interesting elements of fentanyl abuse in the UK is that it affects people of all ages, across all areas of the social spectrum. From people that are addicted to other illegal drugs to those looking for a quick fix for pain, or those who suffer chronic pain and can’t find another drug that works as well, the efficacy of fentanyl is also the thing that makes it so dangerous.

Whilst the UK has nowhere near the opioid problem that the US does yet, statistics from the Department of Health have shown a 60% increase in opioid prescriptions over the past 10 years. This research also discovered that half a million people in England that have been prescribed opiate medication are still taking them three years or more later, meaning that our official statistics for those actively suffering from drug addictions could be an underestimate.

Dr Yasir Abbasi, a former clinical director for addiction services at Mersey Care NHS Trust, has called for better treatment services to be made available in the UK, with a focus on these types of drug addiction, saying: “I feel there’s a hidden epidemic around this. The majority [of addicts] would be invisible because they would be people in primary care, who are prescribed this and are overusing the prescription, refilling the prescription earlier or topping up in other ways.”

Agreeing with Dr Abbasi, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the lack of services dedicated to dealing with prescription drug addictions was frightening, as these patients tend to have very complex needs. She said: “Patients who need these services will often have unique health needs to address that differ from other forms of addiction – often the medical reason they started taking these drugs in the first place.”

The Ocean Recovery Centre is a dedicated rehabilitation centre for people struggling with all kinds of addictions. For those dealing with difficult drug addictions, the centre is able to manage everything from detox to recovery, providing round-the-clock support and therapies, as well as a host of wellness activities to help patients to feel better in their bodies and minds.

A dedicated aftercare programme ensures that those leaving the centre still feel able to get in touch if they find themselves struggling, making it easier to avoid relapse during the trickier months when they first leave the centre.

If you are struggling from an addiction and don’t feel that there is any way out, we can talk to you and help you to make a decision that will change your life for the better, starting from today!

If you want to find out more, you can call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222, and we’ll get back to you straight away.



John Gillen - Author - Last updated: June 7, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.