Why Is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

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Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV.

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Fentanyl is a type of drug classed as a synthetic opioid. This means that the drug is lab-made, with the goal of imitating the effects of a real opiate. 

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl kill thousands of people each year. Fentanyl famously killed Prince in 2016 after he overdosed on laced pills. The drug has skyrocketed in popularity as an illegal party drug of choice ever since 2015.

In the United States, the fentanyl overdose death rate was 112,000 in 2023. Fentanyl is the synthetic opioid all over America, but now it has made its way here to the UK.


Fentanyl Use in The UK

Synthetic opioids have become such a problem in the UK that the government announced an outright ban on them was on its way in February 2023. This seemingly large gesture focuses on the fact that synthetic opioids are raising death rates around the UK.

Drug overdoses happen because the user requires more and more of the same substance to create the same high they got the first time around. This eventually leads to an accidental overdose as the user seeks out the feelings of that first use. It is called “chasing the high.”


Is Fentanyl Available on Prescription in the UK?

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid analgesic, meaning it's used to manage severe pain. It works by targeting your opioid receptors. This medication is available as a prescription painkiller here in the UK.

However, it is possible to develop a prescription drug addiction just as it is possible to develop a standard narcotic drug addiction. In fact, prescription drug addiction is a bigger problem in the UK than other addictions are.

When you begin taking a prescription medication, your doctor will monitor how much of it they will prescribe to you. They will also formulate a treatment plan where they can guide you off the drugs safely, usually using other medications.

If you do become addicted to fentanyl through using it as a painkiller, you can opt to enter prescription drug detox or seek help from a rehab selection service like Help4Addiction to find prescription drug rehab near you.


How Many People Die of Fentanyl Overdose in the UK Each Year?

Aside from the fact that fentanyl is available on prescription, how many people die each year through taking it? Statista started recording fentanyl deaths all the way back in 2004. Until 2010, those deaths stayed below 10 per year.

By 2015, this had tripled and in 2024 there were 58 deaths due to fentanyl overdose. Remember, these are only the deaths that we know about. The sharp rise recommends it is increasing in popularity. The largest rise was in 2017 and 2018, which had 75 and 74 deaths respectively.


Why is Fentanyl So Dangerous?

Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous drug - it is addictive, high-strength, and can be mixed with other drugs.


Fentanyl is Addictive

A fentanyl addiction is particularly dangerous because of users chasing the high. If you don’t seek drug rehab for this addiction, you will eventually spiral downward. Users often become hooked through using it as a prescription medication.

Once you have taken it so long under the guidance of a doctor, you start to question how it could be having a negative impact on your life. If you have been taking fentanyl for a long time and your doctor stops your prescription, you might well not feel the new medication offers ample pain relief. At this point, you go rogue.

You look for friends or family who have extra pills. Through asking around, you find someone who deals with it illegally. This person starts selling it to you. At this point, your addiction is out of control and you take more than the doctor ever gave you. Eventually and without a drug detox, you suffer an overdose and die.


Fentanyl is Strong

The third reason why fentanyl is so dangerous lies in its manufacture. The pills you get from the doctor are pure fentanyl, created in a registered, certified laboratory. When you make the switch to buying fentanyl off street dealers, you cause yourself serious problems. Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl (or IMF) comes in liquid form as well as pill form.

Using a liquid, it is far harder for you to monitor your dose. Not only does it make the drug even more dangerous by potentially including other chemicals, but IMF can be dropped into a drink, put into a vape device, or added to any other liquid you use in your day-to-day life. This opens it up to the world of date rape.

Other currently popular opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone can cause similar problems. As well as the potential for addiction, fentanyl is so dangerous because it is an estimated 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.


Fentanyl Can Be Contaminated With Other Substances

This is a medication that puts you to sleep. Worse: the CDC mentions that many narcotic drugs sold on the underground markets are laced with fentanyl. It was Vicodin laced with fentanyl which led to Prince’s death. This leads to contraindications with other drugs. These can and do prove fatal on a regular basis.


What Causes a Fentanyl Overdose?

Fentanyl is no joke. Because it is around 100 times more potent than morphine, even a tiny amount can cause big problems.

When you mess with it, things can go south fast. If you take too much of it - like even a few extra mg of fentanyl more than your body can handle - you're at risk of overdose.

Mixing fentanyl with other drugs, especially other opioids like heroin or oxycodone, is like playing with fire - it hugely amplifies the risk of an opioid overdose.

Remember, your body doesn't know how to handle fentanyl like it does with other painkillers. So, always stick to your prescribed dose, and never mess around with mixing drugs - it's just not worth the risk.


What Are the Symptoms of a Fentanyl Overdose?

If you know someone who uses fentanyl, or if you are seeking help for yourself, it is sensible to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose. Knowing the signs of an overdose could help you save someone’s life – or spare your own.

Fentanyl overdose signs include:

  • Tiny pupils
  • Slow, shallow breaths, or a lack of breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Miscoloured skin
  • Miscoloured lips and nails (blue, grey, or purple)
  • The subject is losing consciousness.
  • Limp limbs
  • Quiet, slurred, or no speech.
  • Vomiting, choking, or gurgling.


Where To Get Help for a Fentanyl Addiction

If you live in the UK and you are worried that you or another person has a spiralling fentanyl addiction, then you can seek help with Help4Addiction. We pair people with the rehab clinic best suited to them.

To find the rehab that is right for you, we ask a series of questions, all helping to determine what your needs are and how a rehab clinic can help you. Call us today on 0203 955 7700 to talk to our specialists or request a call back on our website.

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