What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is part of a group of drugs known as opioids. Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the brain and elicit a range of responses within the body; from feelings of pain relief, to relaxation, pleasure and contentment. It is prescribed in the event of chronic, severe pain as a result of cancer, nerve damage, back injury, major trauma and surgery. It is about 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
What it looks like
Fentanyl is available in many forms. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is used for managing acute or chronic pain. Illicit fentanyl can be manufactured for use in the illegal drug market.
Medicinal fentanyl comes in a number of different forms and strengths including:
• Transdermal patches (Durogesic® and generic versions)
• Lozenges/lollipops (Actiq®)
• Intravenous injection (Sublimaze®)
Some people use fentanyl illegally by extracting the fentanyl from the patch and injecting it. This is very risky as it is extremely hard to judge a dose size. Fentanyl can be ‘diverted’. Diversion occurs when medication that is prescribed by a medical professional, is not used appropriately, or is given or sold to a third party. Fentanyl is sometimes mixed with other drugs to increase potency. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl can be:
• a stand alone product
• a low cost additive to increase the potency of other illicit drugs such as heroin
• sold as counterfeit medicines (such as oxycodone®)
Effects of fentanyl
There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries risk. Fentanyl affects everyone differently, based on:
• Size, weight and health
• Whether the person is used to taking it
• Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
• The amount taken
• The strength of the drug (varies between patches)
You may experience:
• Relief from pain
• Nausea, vomiting
• Constipation and/or diarrohea
• Reduced appetite
• Wind, indigestion, cramps
• Drowsiness, confusion
• Weakness or fatigue
• Incoherent or slurred speech
• Impaired balance
• Slow pulse and lowered blood pressure
• Rash (inflammation, itch, swelling at patch site)
If the dose is too high, you might overdose. If you have any of these symptoms, call an ambulance straight away
• Chest pain
• Slowed breathing
• Bluish lips and complexion
• Passing out
Naloxone reverses the effects of opiates (including fentanyl), in the case of an overdose. Naloxone can be injected intravenously (into a vein) or intramuscularly (into a muscle) by medical professionals, such as paramedics. It can also be administered by family and friends of people who use opiates. Speak with your chemist or pharmacist for more information. If injecting drugs there is an increased risk of:
• vein damage.
If sharing needles there is an increased risk of:
• hepatitis B.
• hepatitis C.
• HIV and AIDS.
Long term effects
Regular use of fentanyl may cause:
• Mood instability
• Reduced libido
• Menstrual problems
• Respiratory impairment
Using fentanyl with other drugs The effects of taking fentanyl with other drugs - including over-the-counter or prescribed medications - can be unpredictable and dangerous and could cause:
• Fentanyl + alcohol: adds to adverse effects and may increase the risk of respiratory depression.
• Fentanyl + anti-depressants: may result in severe unpredictable reactions.
• Fentanyl + benzodiazepines: may add to the sedative effects and diminished breathing.