January 3, 2024

​​Fentanyl Overdose: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

A stethoscope, depicting the medical assistance needed if Fentanyl overdose symptoms are detected

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid employed for severe pain management in clinical contexts, is also frequently abused illicitly. In the United States, there was a 22% increase in fatal overdoses involving synthetic opioids like illicitly produced fentanyl from 2020 to 2021. Fentanyl overdose statistics for 2021 show that over 71,000 U.S. adults lost their lives to this deadly drug. Read on to learn why fentanyl overdose is such a pressing health concern in the United States. 

What Is Fentanyl Poisoning?

Fentanyl poisoning refers to the toxic effects resulting from an overdose on fentanyl, or excessive exposure to the substance.

As a powerful central nervous system depressant, fentanyl can lead to life-threatening respiratory depression, sedation, and, in severe cases, cardiac arrest. Recognizing the signs of fentanyl poisoning, such as extreme drowsiness, slowed breathing, or loss of consciousness, can help inform timely intervention and enable the engagement of emergency medical assistance. 

The following factors may contribute to accidental fentanyl overdose:

  • Consuming fentanyl with illicit substances: Mixing fentanyl with substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, and methamphetamine increases the risk of overdose.
  • Ingesting fentanyl with prescribed drugs: Combining fentanyl with certain prescribed medications, including other opioids, can heighten the likelihood of overdose.
  • Ingesting fentanyl after abstinence: Resuming fentanyl use after a period of abstinence or having a low tolerance for opioids can elevate the risk of overdose.
  • Non-prescribed use of fentanyl: Taking fentanyl in ways not prescribed, such as using higher doses or more frequent administration than advised, can lead to overdose, especially in cases of pharmaceutical use.
  • Consuming illicitly manufactured fentanyl: The use of fentanyl obtained from illicit sources significantly increases the risk of overdose due to variations in potency and composition.
  • History of overdose: Individuals with a prior history of overdose, regardless of the substance involved, are at an increased risk of experiencing a fentanyl overdose.
  • Using fentanyl alone: The act of using fentanyl or consuming a substance that may contain fentanyl is dangerous due to the potency of this synthetic opioid – just a few grains is considered a lethal dose.
An emergency room, depicting the urgent nature of seeking medical assistance in the event of a fentanyl overdose

Fentanyl Overdose Signs

The following are common indicators that someone may be experiencing a fentanyl overdose:

  • Excessive lethargy or difficulty staying awake is a red flag for fentanyl overdose.
  • Respiratory depression, characterized by abnormally slow or shallow breathing, is a serious indication of fentanyl toxicity.
  • Individuals experiencing a fentanyl overdose may display confusion, disorientation, or an inability to respond appropriately.
  • Constricted or pinpoint pupils, known as miosis, is a distinctive sign associated with opioid overdose, including fentanyl.

Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms

Understanding the symptoms of fentanyl overdose helps in identifying the severity of the situation and providing appropriate medical intervention. The symptoms may include:

  • Loss of consciousness: A person overdosing on fentanyl may lose consciousness, becoming unresponsive and unable to be awakened.
  • Pale or clammy skin: Skin changes, such as pallor or clamminess, can indicate a lack of oxygen circulation and other physiological disturbances.
  • Weak pulse: A weak or irregular pulse is a concerning symptom, reflecting the impact of fentanyl on cardiovascular function.
  • Blue or purple lips and nails: Cyanosis, characterized by blue or purple discoloration of the lips and nails, signals inadequate oxygenation and is a severe symptom of fentanyl overdose.
  • Inability to wake up: Despite attempts to rouse the person, an individual experiencing a fentanyl overdose may remain unresponsive and unable to wake up.

Recognizing these signs and symptoms is crucial for individuals, bystanders, and healthcare providers. If someone is suspected of a fentanyl overdose, seeking immediate medical attention and contacting emergency services is essential for their well-being.


Can you overdose on fentanyl?

Yes, fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid, and overdose is a significant risk. Its potency makes even small amounts potentially lethal, leading to respiratory depression and other life-threatening complications.

What can I do if someone is overdosing on fentanyl?

If you suspect someone is overdosing on fentanyl, it’s crucial to call emergency services immediately. Administering naloxone, an opioid antagonist, can reverse the effects of the overdose and is a critical intervention until professional help arrives.

How can someone prevent a fentanyl overdose?

To prevent a fentanyl overdose, individuals should adhere strictly to prescribed doses, avoid combining fentanyl with other substances, and be aware of the signs of opioid overdose. Additionally, having access to naloxone and knowing how to use it can be a vital preventive measure in emergency situations.

How do you overdose on fentanyl?

Overdosing on fentanyl typically occurs when the drug is ingested, inhaled, or injected in excessive amounts, leading to respiratory depression and fentanyl overdose death. Handle fentanyl with extreme caution and strictly adhere to prescribed doses to avoid overdose.

Can you overdose from touching fentanyl?

It is highly unlikely to overdose from touching fentanyl alone, as the drug is not efficiently absorbed through the skin. However, exposure to fentanyl powder can be dangerous, and proper protective measures, such as wearing gloves, should be taken to prevent accidental contact and minimize any potential risks.

A living room at Gratitude Lodge where addiction recovery treatment is available

Get Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

Fentanyl poses a serious threat, yet all opioid dependencies can be effectively addressed through a combination of medications and therapeutic interventions. At Gratitude Lodge in Southern California, our supervised detox services offer a way to navigate fentanyl withdrawal symptoms with minimal discomfort. Benefit from clinical care and FDA-approved medications to ensure a more comfortable withdrawal experience.

As you progress through our inpatient treatment programs at our Long Beach or Newport Beach facilities, you’ll have access to a comprehensive range of therapies, including:

We can help you overcome fentanyl dependence and addiction with effective and compassionate treatment here at Gratitude Lodge. For immediate assistance, call 800-994-2184 and speak to admissions in confidence.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

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Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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