Opioid Epidemic: Dangers of Heroin, Fentanyl, and Carfentanil

The U.S is facing turbulent times as a result of a drug crisis. Since 2000, the rate of overdose deaths due to opioid abuse has increased at a rate of 200%. Opioids are drugs derived from the opium poppy plant like heroin. Also, in that category are synthetics like the potent fentanyl and carfentanil.

Opioids affect different parts of the brain. Some areas produce euphoria while others numb pain. Opioids are highly addictive in nature. Part of what causes dependence on the drug is withdrawal from using opioids.


The Statistics

Heroin and its synthetic derivatives have devastatingly become the main drivers of deaths in the United States. In 2016 alone, 1/3 of all the drug-related deaths were as a result of opioids overdose.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 115 people and more, die every day in the U.S. as a result of an opioid overdose. The abuse and addiction to opioids is a national crisis affecting public health, social as well as economic welfare.

In 2014, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. reported 5,500 deaths as a result of overdoses from synthetic opioids. That was a staggering 80% increase from 2013.

CDC gives an estimated economic burden of $78.5 billion annually as a result of misuse of opioid prescriptions. This includes the costs of addiction treatment, healthcare, the involvement of criminal justice and lost productivity.

National Institutes of Health(NIH) estimates that:

  • Roughly 80% of heroin users once misused opioids prescribed to them.

  • About 21-29% of patients with opioid prescriptions to manage medical conditions such as pain, misused the drugs.

  • 8-12% of patients who have opioids prescribed to them develop disorders resulting from opioid use.

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This highly addictive drug has since 1924, been illegal in the U.S. It comes in the form of black tar, brown or white powder.

It is also known by the name brown sugar, horse, junk, and smack.

How Is Heroin Used?

The drug can be snorted or injected or smoked. Using it more than twice can lead to dependency.

Between 2010-2012, overdose deaths because of heroin doubled. Heroin is laced with different drugs among them fentanyl. This is a deadly combination. In early 2014, there was a sharp increase in overdose deaths that were linked to the combination of heroin and fentanyl.

How Do You Feel After Taking Heroin?

Once you take the drug, you feel euphoria. For the next couple of hours, the world feels as though it has slowed down. Your movement and thinking slow down as well.

Heroin blocks the pain receptors numbing you to pain. Majority of the users take heroin to alleviate anxieties and other stress-related issues.

According to an Illinois study, 75% of those using heroin had different mental issues such as bipolar disorder, depression, and ADHD.


This synthetic opiate is about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is administered to patients who’ve had surgery to treat severe pain.

Fentanyl comes in different forms such as a lozenge, tablet, patch, and spray. It is highly addictive and an overdose can be fatal.

Many users become addicted to the drug because of the profound pleasure they derive when they inject or ingest fentanyl.

This drug is highly regulated and is only used where other drugs cannot manage extreme pain. However, those abusing it are able to obtain it illegally.

Fentanyl is known to work wonders for patients suffering from chronic pain emanating from diseases like cancer.

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How Does Fentanyl Work?

The biological chemical mechanism by which this opioid alleviates intense pain is the same mechanism that makes addicts abuse it.

Fentanyl accelerates the release of endorphins in your body. Endorphins are responsible for giving you an intense soothing feeling and pleasure when your body is in pain or comes under stress.

Given that it is stronger than a lot of opioids the withdrawal symptoms are more intense.

Fentanyl and Heroin Physical Effects

Fentanyl and Heroin have a number of physical effects on a user’s body which include:

  • Euphoria

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Cognitive difficulty

  • Drowsiness

  • Sedation

  • Constipation

  • Change in blood pressure as well as heart rate

  • Respiratory depression and then arrest

  • Unconsciousness


Carfentanil is a potent derivative chemical compound whose structure is similar to fentanyl. It is usually in the form of a powdery white substance.

Carfentanil binds to the opioids receptors found in your brain. It overwhelms the neutral chemistry leading to symptoms of overdosing immediately. The extreme nature of carfentanil causes the rapid deadly overdoses.

According to the DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency, this drug is the most dangerous commercial opioid the world over. 1 unit is:

  • 10,000 times more lethal than 1 unit of the opioid morphine.

  • 5,000 times as lethal as 1 unit of the opioid heroin

  • 100 times more lethal than 1 unit of fentanyl.

In 2016, the DEA gave out a warning about carfentanil. In it was a disclaimer that the overdose symptoms of the drug could be experienced within minutes of being exposed to this powerful narcotic.

The DEA cautioned that if a person experienced the following symptoms, they should get medical attention immediately:

  • Clammy skin

  • Disorientation

  • Pinpoint pupils

  • Sudden drowsiness

  • Depressed and slow breathing

  • Sedation

Carfentanil is not actually meant to be consumed by humans. It is used to sedate big-sized zoo animals such as buffalos and elephants.

To give you an idea of just how potent this drug is, as little as 2mg of carfentanil is needed to tranquilize a 2,000lb African elephant. That is the equivalent of a pinch of salt.

Getting Help

Opioid addiction requires treatment even if you or a loved one wants to stop using these drugs after a considerably short period. Treatment makes it a lot easier to manage and deal with any effects associated with discontinuing opioids.

The physical addictions to opioids require treatment. Even though you may have the willpower needed to break the addiction, without proper treatment, you may suffer from a lot of discomforts because of a drop in the endorphin levels in your body as a result of abruptly discontinuing the drugs.

Rather than just find an escape for the drug challenges you are facing, our holistic treatment for drug and alcohol addiction will give you all the essential tools you or your loved one needs to achieve absolute victory.

As no two people are alike we will tailor your treatment to suit your individual needs. We will find a solution that works best for you.

Feel free to contact our helpline and our experts will provide you with all the resources and information for a holistic as well as comprehensive addiction treatment.

Want more information about how Chapters Capistrano can help? Feel free to call 949-276-2886 and one of our addiction specialists will help get the information and help you need.

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Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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