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Fentanyl vs Heroin

Fentanyl vs. Heroin | Just Believe Recovery Pennsylvania

In This Article

Fentanyl and heroin are both opioid drugs that bind to specific receptors in the brain, thereby mitigating sensations of pain and inducing feelings of pleasure and reward. Both are incredibly potent, fast-acting, and can be lethal in just one dose.

Fentanyl vs. Heroin: The Basics

Heroin is derived from morphine, an alkaloid that is found naturally in the seed of the opium poppy. Heroin is commonly encountered as a white, tan, or brown powder, or sometimes as a black, sticky substance, also referred to as “black tar” heroin.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified heroin as a Schedule I controlled substance with no legitimate medical use. Heroin can be taken orally but is more often smoked, snorted, or injected.

Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid similar in effect to both morphine and heroin. However, it is also estimated to be as much as 50 times more powerful than heroin and as much as 100 times more potent than morphine.

Fentanyl was first synthesized in 1960 and intended to be an extremely effective painkiller. It is still widely used in clinical environments to treat severe pain related to surgery or injuries or for chronic pain among those who do not respond well to less potent opioids. Moreover, unlike heroin, fentanyl does have some accepted medical purpose and is therefore classified as a Schedule II substance by the DEA.

Fentanyl is occasionally diverted from legitimate forms for abuse, but on the street, it is most often found as an illicitly manufactured product produced in clandestine laboratories, particularly China. Fentanyl is cheaper and easier to obtain than heroin and is often included as an adulterant in the drug.

Fentanyl exposure is exceptionally hazardous, as it can be readily absorbed through the skin, and as little as .25 milligrams can be deadly. Prescription fentanyl comes in the form of lozenges, sublingual tablets, nasal and oral sprays, transdermal patches, and as an injectable substance.

Also, illegally-obtained fentanyl can be made into pills that look like other prescription opioids such as oxycodone or be converted into powder form.

Overdose and Side Effects

Fentanyl vs. Heroin | Just Believe Recovery Pennsylvania

Overdose deaths related to the use of heroin or fentanyl have been increasing steaily every year since the turn of the century, reaching epidemic proportions. In fact, in 1999, there were less than 2,000 fatalities in the United States involving heroin. That number had increased to more than 15,000 by 2017, according statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Also, among the more than 70,200 overdose deaths in 2017, the most significant increase was seen among deaths related to fentanyl and its analogs with more than 28,400 lethal overdoses.

Many of these fatalities may be due to the fact that individuals who are exposed to fentanyl are unaware of its presence in the drug they are using. It’s often laced into or marketed as pure heroin or other drugs to increase dealer profits. However, fentanyl is much more powerful than heroin and can rapidly lead to a toxic buildup, meaning it can cause an overdose faster and in smaller doses.

Because they are CNS depressants, an opioid overdose can become life-threatening when the user’s respiration becomes perilously slow. Heart rate is also decreased, body temperature reduced, and individuals may be confused, drowsy, lethargic, or can fall completely unconscious, unable to be roused.

As noted, an overdose on either heroin or fentanyl has a high potential of resulting in death. Fortunately, overdoses related to either drug can be reversed with prompt administration of the opioid antagonist naloxone (brand name Narcan). Because fentanyl is more powerful in lower doses than heroin, it may, however, take multiple doses of naloxone to counteract its toxic effects.

Both fentanyl and heroin abuse lead to irreversible damage to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, as well as brain damage and cognitive deficits. Injecting either of these drugs also raises the risk of collapsed veins, track marks, skin abscesses, and the contraction of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS.

Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

Both heroin and fentanyl have an extremely high potential for addiction. These two drugs can produce intense \euphoric feelings, and dependence can manifest rapidly. When the brain has grown accustomed to the presence of an opioid, the body will begin to require exposure to the drug to function normally.

For those who have become dependent on one or more of these drugs, unpleasant and sometimes painful withdrawal symptoms onset when the drug effects subside. These effects may include depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and flu-like symptoms. For many, it may seem like a better idea to keep abusing the drug than to deal with the nasty withdrawal symptoms, and this behavior can rapidly lead to an inability to control drug use.

Also, over time, frequent drug use can result in the development of tolerance, a condition in which the individual who uses requires ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the sought-after effects. Drug addiction is often defined as compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite the incurrence of adverse effects, driven by adversely altered brain chemistry related to drug use.

Heroin and Fentanyl Comparison


  • Semi-synthetic opioid
  • Illicit drug with no legitimate medical use
  • Highly addictive
  • Manufactured in powder form
  • Commonly snorted, smoked or injected when abused, sometimes taken orally
  • Fast-acting and produces a brief but intense rush
  • Potential for rapid onset of overdose, hallmarked by life-threatening central nervous system depression
  • Typically requires medical detox and around-the-clock clinical supervision to safely eliminate the drug from the body and prevent withdrawal symptoms and relapse
  • Often requires comprehensive, individualized treatment to sustain long-lasting recovery

Fentanyl vs. Heroin | Just Believe Recovery Pennsylvania


  • Full synthetic opioid
  • Highly addictive
  • Available by prescription only in several forms as a powerful painkiller and also manufactured illegally
  • Manufactured as a tablet, lozenge, patch, injectable liquid, or powder
  • Ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected when abused
  • Fast-acting and produces a relatively short but intense rush
  • Can be deadly in microgram doses and can be absorbed through the skin by incidental contact
  • Often requires medical detox to safely purge the drug from the body and mitigate withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse
  • Often requires comprehensive, individualized treatment to sustain long-lasting recovery

Getting Help for Opioid Addiction

Both fentanyl and heroin are extremely dangerous and powerful opioids, and comprehensive substance abuse rehab is typically necessary to address addiction to these substances. Counseling and behavioral therapies are often beneficial in managing cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and drug-seeking behaviors associated with previous opioid use and addiction.

Both fentanyl and heroin are short-acting opioids, and the use of either should not be discontinued abruptly or cold turkey.

Addiction to opioids is a potentially life-threatening condition that should be addressed by medical and mental health professionals as a chronic disease. Just Believe Recovery offers an integrated, clinically-proven approach to addiction treatment in both residential and partial hospitalization formats. Our programs feature services such as behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and much more.

Our center employs compassionate and highly-skilled addiction specialists who facilitate our featured services to those we treat with care and expertise. We are committed to ensuring the safe recovery of every individual and provide them with the tools and support they require to fully recover and experience long-term, sustainable sobriety and well-being.

Recovering from drug abuse and addiction is a life-long process, but you don’t have to do it alone. We urge you no contact us today and discover how we can help you reclaim the life you deserve!

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