Fentanyl is an extremely potent and addictive synthetic opioid which is often prescribed under the ‘Actiq’ brand. It is most commonly prescribed in the UK to treat severe pain (also known as ‘breakthrough’ pain) for patients suffering after a major surgery or during advanced-stage cancer. It can also be prescribed to patients who have built up a tolerance to other potent painkillers such as morphine.

There are two forms of the synthetic opioid: fentanyl prescribed by doctors (pharmaceutical), and illegally manufactured fentanyl which is sold and distributed in drug markets. The illegal form of fentanyl can be mixed with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine to make the drug less potent, and is roughly 50 times stronger than the highly addictive opioid heroin. It is often sold in a powder or liquid form and is indistinguishable from other similar opiate drugs. This can be extremely dangerous and even lethal, particularly if a drug addict is unaware that a substance is laced with fentanyl. Many people who are prescribed fentanyl are also unaware of the dangers of the drug and may not realise that they are dependent upon or abusing it.

Signs of fentanyl addiction

Fentanyl is one of the strongest opiate-type drugs in existence and its potency has made fentanyl a highly sought-after and extremely addictive recreational drug. As with other opioid painkillers, fentanyl works by mimicking endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), blocking pain signals from the brain and making users feel good. It has caused a huge number of overdoses because of its high potency as well as its inconsistent mixture with other substances which makes it impossible to gauge the strength or dosage.

Intended only for use by people suffering from extreme pain and in some cases end of life care, any recreational use of the drug is considered to be a substance abuse problem. The use of fentanyl can have a devastating impact on the everyday life of users and immediate detox treatment is needed for users to withdraw from the addictive substance. Fentanyl is particularly dangerous and addictive when prescribed by a doctor, as patients may not realise that what they are being given has negative effects long term. If they increase 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.

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.”

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Opioid use in the UK

Fentanyl abuse in the UK affects people of all ages across all areas of the social spectrum. From people that are addicted to other illegal drugs, to those who suffer chronic pain and can’t find another drug that works as well, the efficacy of fentanyl is what makes the drug so dangerous and, in some cases, lethal.

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 who 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.

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.”

Admissions to rehab

For people seeking treatment for a fentanyl addiction, Ocean Recovery Centre will undertake an initial assessment of the user. The assessment takes place entirely over the phone and after an initial discussion the patient will then receive a date to enter Ocean Recovery in person.

Upon arrival at the rehab centre the patient will receive a full physical and psychological medical examination by a qualified staff member to determine the treatment plan and needs of the person suffering from addiction. The clinical team at Ocean Recovery will then create a personalised treatment plan which is designed to meet the likely challenges that clients may face during their rehabilitation. 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.

What happens at fentanyl rehab at Ocean Recovery?

The first stage of fentanyl rehabilitation is detox. The patient will be treated by the team at Ocean Recovery for their withdrawal symptoms and will receive 24/7 medical attention throughout this period. Patients may be prescribed medications designed to reduce the withdrawal symptoms such as Subutex to make the transition as comfortable as possible for the patient.

As rehab at Ocean Recovery is residential, clients have meals and cleaning provided by the centre’s support staff, enabling the full attention of each patient to be solely on recovery and wellbeing. The needs of each individual are monitored, and treatment is personalised to ensure patients find their detoxification transition as comfortable as possible.

Fentanyl detox process

The main sign of fentanyl addiction is the withdrawal symptoms that are experienced after a period of use of the drug. If symptoms such as muscle aches, itching and sweating are experienced after use of fentanyl, it is extremely likely that the person has become addicted to the drug. It is important to seek medical help if any of these signs are experienced, and Ocean Recovery Centre provides a rehab programme for help.

It can be extremely difficult to go through the withdrawal process alone, which is why the 24/7 support of medical professionals at Ocean Recovery is necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms. The medical team are available to offer patients non-addictive medications to help with the painful withdrawal symptoms which are experienced during detox such as Subutex.

Common withdrawal symptoms occurring during fentanyl detox include:

  • Muscle ache
  • Itching sensation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

How is medication used to treat fentanyl addiction?

Opiates cause painful and hard to manage withdrawal symptoms which can often stop users from becoming sober outside of a monitored rehab facility. Certain medications known as opioid agonists and antagonists are able to balance the effect of opioids in the brain. These types of medications are prescribed by medical professionals to make the detox process more comfortable for patients and increase the likelihood of managing sobriety.

Therapy for fentanyl addiction

The detox period of fentanyl is typically between ten to fifteen days depending on the severity of the addiction. Once the detox has concluded, clients are encouraged to attend therapy and counselling services to address the psychological effects of substance addiction.

Due to the complexity of fentanyl use and the mental impact opiate addiction causes users, therapy will be tailored to patients differently dependent of their individual needs. Ocean Recovery employs an in-house team of therapists who aim to treat the mental aspect of fentanyl addiction.

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.

Contacting Ocean Recovery Centre

Call Ocean Recovery today to find out more about rehab services. Call on 01253 847 553 for information.

Alternatively, complete the enquiry form and a member of the team will respond shortly.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: May 10, 2022

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.

Dr Alexander Lapa - Clinical Reviewer at Ocean Recovery

Dr Alexander Lapa (Psychiatrist) - Clinical Reviewer - Last reviewed:

MBBS, PG Dip Clin Ed, OA Dip CBT, OA Dip Psychology, SCOPE Certified

Dr Lapa graduated in Medicine in 2000 and since this time has accrued much experience working in the widest range of psychiatric settings with differing illness presentations and backgrounds in inpatient, community and secure settings. This has been aligned to continuation of professional development at postgraduate level in clinical research which has been very closely related to the everyday clinical practice conducted by this practitioner as a NHS and Private Psychiatrist.
He is fully indemnified by the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) and MIAB Expert Insurance for Psychiatric and Private Medical practice. He is fully registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) in the UK with a licence to practice.

Dr Lapa is approved under Section 12(2) of the Mental Health Act (1983)

Member of Independent Doctors Federation (IDF), British Association for Psychopharmacology (BMA) and The Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO)

Dr Lapa’s extensive experience has also concentrated on the following areas of clinical practice:
– Assessment, Diagnosis and Pharmacological Treatment for Adults with ADHD.
– Drug and Alcohol Dependency and maintaining abstinence and continued recovery
– Intravenous and Intramuscular Vitamin and Mineral Infusion Therapy
– Dietary and Weight Management and thorough care from assessment to treatment to end goals and maintenance
– Aesthetic Practice and Procedures