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Risks and Dangers of Fentanyl Overdose

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid with a high potential for dependence, addiction, and overdose.1 Since it is so potent, fentanyl use has a high risk for overdose.1 A fentanyl overdose is a medical emergency that carries serious risks and could be fatal. Understanding the dangers of a fentanyl overdose, as well as how to respond if you are experiencing or witnessing a fentanyl overdose can be vital for saving a life in the event of an overdose.

What is Fentanyl Overdose?

A fatal fentanyl overdose can occur when too much of the drug overwhelms the body’s natural respiratory drive, resulting in dangerously slowed or altogether stopped breathing.2 Fentanyl in particular has a high risk for overdose because of the drug’s potency; it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.1

Fentanyl, like other opioids, can cause respiratory depression, meaning it slows down breathing.1 During an overdose, breathing can significantly slow or completely stop, which can decrease the delivery of oxygen to our brain, constituting a medical emergency. Fentanyl, when found in combination with other substances, can increase the risk of overdose due to its potent respiratory depressing effects.

Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms

A fentanyl overdose may include several tell-tale opioid overdose signs and symptoms, such as:3

  • Constricted or pinpoint pupils.
  • Unconsciousness or an inability to awaken.
  • Slowed or shallow breathing, or an absence of breathing.
  • Bluish lips or fingernails.

While a fentanyl overdose is life-threatening, the appropriate course of action can save a person’s life.

Fentanyl Overdose Treatment and Naloxone

If you are experiencing or witness an opioid overdose, 9-1-1 should be called immediately.2

In cases of suspected overdose, it is important to administer naloxone, if available.2 Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it can quickly block the effects of fentanyl and other opioids, reverse an overdose, and restore breathing within a few minutes.4 Some naloxone may be available as a metered nasal spray (under brand names Narcan, Kloxxado) and does not requires special training to administer.4

It is important to note that, even after naloxone is administered, medical services are needed right away because overdose symptoms can return, and withdrawal symptoms may need attention.3

Fentanyl Overdose Death and Statistics

Statistics show that synthetic opioids like fentanyl continue to play some role in the majority of overdose deaths.5 In 2021, more than 80,000 overdose deaths involved opioids — 70,000 of which involved synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl).5 In 2021, more than 70% of all deaths from overdose involving opioids occurred among males.5

The prevalence of fentanyl in overdose deaths is noteworthy and complex, though the increased availability of the substance is likely playing some role.6 For example, many people may unintentionally use drugs (like heroin, cocaine, or other drugs in counterfeit pill form) that have been contaminated with fentanyl, greatly increasing their risk of an opioid overdose.6,7 This is seen in the rates of overdose deaths involving stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. In 2021, there were over 53,000 deaths involving stimulants, and over 30,000 of those also involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.5

Sadly, scientists expect the number of opioid deaths to increase and then remain consistent after 2025.8 Improved prevention and treatment efforts are being developed to address the opioid overdose crisis, though.9 Treatment for OUD can play a crucial role in decreasing compulsive opioid use to ultimately help a person avoid overdose. Both psychotherapy and medications are effective treatments that opioid addiction programs provide.1

Finding Fentanyl Addiction Rehabs

If you or a loved one has experienced a fentanyl overdose, it may be the sign of a broader pattern of misuse or addiction. Luckily, medications for opioid use disorder and other evidence-based treatments can help people recover from fentanyl addiction. There are steps you can take to find fentanyl addiction treatment. Consulting with a primary care provider is a good place to start, as they may be able to help determine a patient’s needs and refer them to suitable rehab centers. You can also use our insurance verification tool to find drug rehab programs that take insurance.

Another way to locate fentanyl addiction treatment is by checking the Fentanyl Support treatment directory, which allows one to search through thousands of rehab facilities across the country. Further, the AAC addiction helpline at connects callers with an admissions navigator who can answer questions, assist with locating appropriate addiction rehab centers, and verify that their health insurance can be used for those programs.

It is never too late to seek help. Please call us at . We are here 24/7 and are happy to assist.

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