What Heroin and Fentanyl Can Do to Your Body

Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach

One thing that the opioid epidemic has taught us is that the risk of overdose is a reality. Between 1999 and 2019, nearly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses. These are staggering numbers, and much has been done to try to curb this epidemic. For those who are fortunate enough to survive, however, it is important to understand the serious side effects of opioid abuse. Do you know what heroin and fentanyl can do to your body?

Why Heroin and Fentanyl Are So Dangerous

Both heroin and fentanyl belong to a class of drugs known as opioids. Heroin is made from morphine, which comes from the seeds of specific types of poppies. Fentanyl is an opioid that is similar to morphine but is synthetic and can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Both drugs are most commonly made, distributed, and used illegally, which is one of the biggest reasons they are so dangerous. When fentanyl is used in prescription form for severe and chronic pain, its dosage can be carefully monitored by a doctor.

Overdose Risk and Addiction of Fentanyl & Heroin

Neither drug, when made or purchased illegally, can be guaranteed to be exactly what is advertised. Often, the drugs are laced with other drugs, or they are used with alcohol or other drugs, which increases the risk of overdose or serious harm exponentially. While heroin used to be the most popular, fentanyl has quickly grown in popularity because it is cheaper to make and has stronger effects. Unfortunately, that also means that it puts you at higher risk for overdose or serious side effects. The drug overdoses that involved fentanyl went from 14.3% of all overdose deaths to 59% from 2010 to 2017.

Another big reason that these opioids are so dangerous is because they can cause fentanyl or heroin addiction so quickly. As your body builds a tolerance for the drug, it requires a higher dose more often, usually with less of the desired high. Opioid addictions are incredibly powerful due to how quickly they can change the reward system in your brain and the compelling cravings that they create. For all of these reasons and more, heroin and fentanyl are very dangerous.

Short-Term Effects of Opioid Abuse

Fentanyl and heroin are sought for the happy feelings or highs that they produce. But this is a short-term effect that becomes shorter every time they are used as your body builds up a tolerance for the drugs. Other more disconcerting short-term side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Heavy limbs
  • Severe itching
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion and a cloudy mind
  • Constipation
  • Falling asleep
  • Problems breathing
  • Semi-consciousness or losing consciousness

The Long-Term Effects of Heroin and Fentanyl

In addition to the short-term side effects of fentanyl and heroin addiction, there are a number of long-term serious side effects ( in addition to the risk of overdose), many of which can be permanent:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins for intravenous users
  • Potential hepatitis or HIV infections for intravenous users
  • Damaged nose tissue for those who sniff or snort
  • Skin abscesses and sores
  • Infection of the heart valves and lining
  • Clogged blood vessels can cause permanent damage to the heart, lungs, liver and brain
  • Constipation and stomach cramps
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung problems
  • Depression or other mental health disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irregular menstrual cycles

The Importance of Seeking Help for Opioid Addiction

Because of the intensely powerful addictive nature of fentanyl and heroin, seeking help is important and can be life-saving. Starting and stopping these drugs on your own can put you at increased risk for overdose, so it is very important to seek medical supervision as you go through withdrawal treatment for opioids.

Additionally, all of the short- and long-term health side effects increase the need for medical supervision as your body detoxes. Many of the initial withdrawal symptoms are very unpleasant, which is why so many people struggle to stop on their own. These include:

  • Restlessness and uncontrolled leg movements
  • Sleep dysfunction
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes and goosebumps
  • Serious muscle and bone pain
  • Severe cravings

Early Intervention Can Help Avoid Serious Health Risks

Because the effects of fentanyl and heroin addiction can become more intense each time you use the drugs, as well as the increase in health risks and overdose each time you use them, early intervention is important. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help reduce your symptoms and your cravings as you are in withdrawal treatment for opioids. In simple terms, the sooner you seek help, the better your chances of not only remaining abstinent, but also avoiding the serious risks to your health as well as the possibility of overdose, as we have seen during the opioid epidemic.

When knowing the risks of overdose are not enough for you to seek treatment for opioid abuse, considering the short and long-term side effects may help you understand the severity of fentanyl and heroin addiction. Withdrawal treatment for opioids can be minimized by MAT and is much safer for you under medical supervision. At DiscoveryMD, we do not want you to become a statistic of the opioid epidemic. Our program offers treatment for many substances, including fentanyl and heroin. We offer MAT to help minimize your symptoms and cravings as well as the compassion you deserve as you begin your treatment and recovery. We offer quality care and accessibility in both intensive outpatient and outpatient programs. Let DiscoveryMD be your first step on the road to your recovery. Contact us today and let us help you heal. 

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