Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms: What to Look for at Vista Taos Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Learn to identify fentanyl overdose symptoms quickly. Our comprehensive guide aids in recognizing this life-threatening condition.

What Is Fentanyl?

In order to understand fentanyl overdose symptoms, it is beneficial to learn about the drug first. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. It is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times stronger.1

Like morphine, it is a medicine that is often used to treat patients with severe pain. In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze.

fentanyl overdose symptoms

Illegal Fentanyl

Illegal fentanyl has been a major contributor to the opioid epidemic in the United States. It is often mixed with other drugs that increase the risk of overdose.

Common drugs that fentanyl is mixed with include:

How Do Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms Affect the Brain?

Fentanyl affects the opioid receptors in the brain. The opioid receptors control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria.

These drugs also affect the areas of the brain that regulate breathing. High doses can lead to respiratory failure, which can be fatal.

Effects of Fentanyl Use

The effects of fentanyl include:

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Respiratory depression and arrest
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Sedation
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Tolerance
  • Addiction

Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms That Everyone Should Be Aware Of

Recognizing the signs of fentanyl overdose symptoms can save a life. Here are some of the symptoms to watch for:2
  • Trouble breathing or stopped breathing: Fentanyl, like other opioids, can suppress the body’s urge to breathe. This is the most dangerous symptom of an overdose.
  • Extreme sleepiness or unresponsiveness: The person may be “out of it” and unable to wake up or respond.
    Limp body: The person may appear to be very weak or floppy.
  • Cold and clammy skin: They may feel cool to the touch, especially on their face, and their skin might be excessively pale or have a bluish hue.
  • Narrowed or pinpoint pupils: This is a classic sign of opioid overdose.
    Loss of consciousness or coma: In severe cases, the person might lose consciousness completely.
  • Slow, erratic, or no pulse: The person’s heart rate may slow or stop altogether.
  • Choking or gurgling noises: These can be signs of respiratory distress, which is an emergency.
  • Vomiting: Some people may vomit. This can lead to choking if the person is unconscious.

If someone shows fentanyl overdose symptoms, it’s important to act fast. Call emergency services right away. Try to keep the person awake and breathing, if possible, until help arrives.

How Does Fentanyl Differ from Other Opioids?

Fentanyl is much more potent than many other opioids. This is why it’s so dangerous. It’s estimated to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin.3

Signs of a Fentanyl Overdose

The signs of an overdose often include:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Blue lips or fingertips
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Extreme drowsiness or unresponsiveness
  • Pinpoint pupils (pupils that appear very small)
  • Clammy or cold skin
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Loss of consciousness or coma
  • Slow heartbeat or low blood pressure
  • Muscle limpness or weakness
  • Pale or ashen complexion
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting or gurgling noises from the throat
  • Inability to wake up or stay awake
  • Respiratory distress or difficulty breathing

Dangers of Fentanyl

Because fentanyl is so potent, these symptoms may come on quicker and be more severe than with other opioids.

Since fentanyl is so potent compared to other opioids, standard doses of naloxone may not be enough to reverse fentanyl overdose symptoms. More doses or a higher concentration may be required.

Fentanyl also poses a unique danger because it is often mixed with other drugs. Users may not be aware they are taking fentanyl. They also may not know how much fentanyl is in the drug they are taking, increasing the risk of fentanyl overdose symptoms.

Risk Factors for Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms

If you, or someone you know, are using fentanyl, it’s important to know what risk factors might increase overdose symptoms. There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a fentanyl overdose.

Some of these risk factors include:4
  • Tolerance level: Those with a lower tolerance are more susceptible to an overdose. Tolerance to opioids develops with regular use.
  • Illicit drug use: Fentanyl is often mixed with other illegal drugs without the user’s knowledge. This unpredictability increases the risk of overdose.
  • Using alone: Using drugs when you’re alone means there’s no one to call for help or administer naloxone if you overdose.
  • Previous overdose: People who have experienced an overdose in the past are more likely to have another one in the future.
  • Co-ingestion: Combining fentanyl with other substances can increase the risk of overdose. These substances include depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines.
  • Dosage: Because fentanyl is so potent, even a small increase in the amount used can lead to an overdose. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl can also vary in potency. This increases the risk of unintentional overdose.
  • Physical health: Certain health conditions can make individuals more susceptible to fentanyl overdose symptoms. Health conditions such as liver or lung disease. In addition, older people and the very young are often more sensitive to the effects of opioids.
  • Mental health: Individuals with mental health conditions have a higher likelihood of misusing opioids. This can increase their risk of an overdose.

What To Do If You Suspect a Fentanyl Overdose

If you suspect someone is experiencing fentanyl overdose symptoms, it’s important to act fast. The situation can be life-threatening.

Here are the steps you should take:5
  1. Call emergency services immediately: Dial your country’s emergency number. When you call, provide as much information as possible, including that you suspect a fentanyl overdose.
  2. Administer naloxone if available: Naloxone (Narcan) is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. If you have a naloxone kit and have been trained to use it, administer it as directed.6
  3. Perform rescue breathing if necessary: If the person isn’t breathing or breathing is very slow or irregular, start performing rescue breathing. Tilt their head back, pinch the nose shut, and give one rescue breath every 5 seconds.
  4. Stay with the person until help arrives: Try to keep the person awake if possible. Don’t leave them alone. They could lose consciousness, or their condition could worsen.
  5. Place the person in the recovery position if unconscious: If the person is unconscious but breathing, you should place them in the recovery position. This can prevent choking if they vomit. This involves laying them on their side with their body supported by a bent knee.
  6. Don’t try to make the person vomit: This could cause them to choke.

Even if you’re unsure if it’s an overdose, it’s best to call emergency services to be safe. Overdose is a life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical attention.

Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms vs. Other Opioid Overdose Symptoms

Fentanyl, heroin, and prescription opioids are all opioids. Thus, the symptoms of an overdose are quite similar for each of these substances.

The most significant differences between fentanyl and other opioid overdoses are:

  • Because of fentanyl’s high potency, it may take many doses of naloxone to counteract the overdose. Overdoses from less potent opioids might be reversed with a single dose of naloxone.
  • Because fentanyl is often mixed with other substances, this can increase the risk and severity of an overdose. These mixed substances can also complicate treatment.
  • The risk of fentanyl overdose symptoms is much higher than with other opioids. This is especially true when the purity and quantity are unknown.

Long-Term Effects of Surviving Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms

Surviving fentanyl overdose symptoms can indeed result in long-term complications. These vary based on individual circumstances, the extent of the overdose, and how fast treatment was administered.

Some potential long-term consequences include:7
  • Brain damage: This can occur due to a lack of oxygen if breathing is slowed or stopped during the overdose. This could result in cognitive difficulties (like memory issues), problems with motor function, and a vegetative state.
  • Psychological issues: Surviving an overdose can be a traumatic experience. This could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health issues.
  • Continued substance misuse and addiction: Surviving an overdose doesn’t cure opioid use disorder. Without proper treatment and support, the individual may continue misusing fentanyl.

Resources and Support Available for Those Who Have Experienced Fentanyl Overdose

There are many resources and support systems available for individuals who have experienced fentanyl overdose symptoms. These include:

Addiction Treatment Services

Many hospitals and clinics offer addiction treatment services. These services often include a combination of:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

This U.S. agency has a national helpline (1-800-662-HELP). It offers free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information services for individuals and families facing mental health and/or substance use disorders.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

This is a community-based association of recovering drug addicts with more than 70,000 weekly meetings in 144 countries.

Al-Anon and Nar-Anon

These organizations offer support for friends and families of people struggling with addiction. They have meetings worldwide, providing a supportive environment to share experiences and learn from others.

Harm Reduction Organizations

These organizations provide resources and services such as needle exchanges, naloxone distribution, and overdose response training.

Community Health Centers

Many community health centers offer resources for people struggling with substance use disorder, including education and treatment services.

Educational Resources

Many organizations provide educational materials and resources. This is to help individuals and their loved ones understand substance use disorders and treatments.

Some organizations that provide valuable information include:
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  • World Health Organization (WHO)

Local Health Departments

Many local health departments offer resources. They can also connect individuals and families with appropriate services in their area.

Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs

Some communities have opioid overdose prevention programs that provide education and resources to the public. These resources can provide crucial help and support for those dealing with fentanyl overdose symptoms or addiction.

fentanyl overdose symptoms

How Vista Taos Renewal Center Can Help

Vista Taos Renewal Center offers comprehensive addiction treatment services. We provide a variety of resources for those struggling with substance use, including fentanyl. 

Our facility provides a holistic, individualized approach, focusing not just on the addiction but the person as a whole.

We offer an array of services that assist in your recovery. These services include:

Reach Out to Vista Taos Today

Our compassionate team helps guide you through the recovery journey, equipping you with the tools necessary to achieve lasting sobriety.

To provide the most comprehensive treatment, Vista Taos addresses co-occurring disorders. We help you tackle mental health issues that often go with addiction.

With a supportive environment, Vista Taos offers a haven for healing, growth, and transformation. Learn more about fentanyl overdose symptoms or our addiction treatment today. Contact Vista Taos Renewal Center today, and we’ll get you started on your recovery from addiction.

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Ready to Renew Your Life and Well-Being?

Reach out to Vista Taos Renewal Center today and let us guide you toward sustainable recovery. We will help you heal from the addictions and substance use challenges that hinder you from leading your most fulfilled life through personalized, whole-person treatment.