Since its first introduction in 1803, opioids have quickly become one of the most popular drugs in prescription. From morphine, tramadol to fentanyl, many opioid combinations are often used to treat chronic and acute pain.

However, many pharmaceutical-grade drugs are illegally produced and distributed throughout the country, leading to a surge in drug addiction. Used for recreational purposes, these opioids can affect your behavior and brain, making it difficult to control. That’s why it is essential to understand the features and uses of each drug before you decide to use it. In this guide, we’ll show you the similarities and differences two of the most powerful opioids: heroin and fentanyl

Overview of fentanyl and heroin

Heroin is made from morphine, a natural substance which is extracted from the seeds of opium poppy plants. Heroin is mostly distributed as a brown or white powder. However, the DEA classifies it as an illegal drug and forbids it from medicinal uses. However, many people still inject, smoke, or snort heroin for recreational uses.

Fentanyl is basically a manmade or synthetic opioid which is much more potent than morphine. Compared to heroin, fentanyl has a slightly different chemical structure and is accepted for medicinal uses. It is often seen as a powerful pain reliever that can treat severe pains after surgery. However, fake drugs still exist and increase the risk of addiction and abuse.

Fentanyl would be absorbed through incidental contact or the skin and be fatal even in a very small dose. Prescription fentanyl is available in patch, powder, tablet, or oral and nasal form. When abused, this opioid can be chewed, sucked on, injected, or inserted into your body.

Potential overdose and side effects

Overdose fatalities involving fentanyl or heroin are rising. Overdoses on heroin or fentanyl can be fatal, but these effects would be can be reversed with the use of Narcan, an opioid antagonist naloxone. As fentanyl is more potent in a lower dose than heroin, it might take more Narcan to reverse the lethal side effects.

In many cases, fentanyl is often mixed with heroin and distributed as pure heroin. Many people might not realize this and abuse the drug. Since fentanyl is more powerful than heroin, it might lead to a toxic buildup and quicker overdose and in lower doses. The situation gets dangerous if breathing becomes too slow, which results in a slower pulse, dropped temperature, and mental confusion.

In the long term, both fentanyl and heroin can cause long-term damages to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems as well as result in potential cognitive defects and brain damage. Injecting these substances can also increase the risks of contracting infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Addiction and dependence

Both heroin and fentanyl are extremely addictive drugs, which can create a euphoric and intense “high”. Also, dependence would form quickly. Once your brain gets used to their presence, the body might require the drugs to function optimally.

As the drugs wear off, there will be some significant symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, agitation, and other physical changes. But if you keep abusing these substances, it might result in an ability to control the body and addiction.

To address addiction to heroin and fentanyl, it requires comprehensive treatments. A few FDA-approved medications include naltrexone, buprenorphine, or methadone. These pharmaceutical tools will be combined with some behavioral therapies to help manage the cravings and minimize withdrawal symptoms.

A quick comparison between fentanyl and heroin

In overall, both fentanyl and heroin are powerful opioids which are highly addictive. Also, they are fast-acting and can create a short, intense rush when using. When abused, they can be smoked, snorted, or injected and might lead to addiction. To process the drug safely out of the body, it often requires opioid replacement medications or medical detox. Here are a few differences:

Fentanyl
- Synthetic opioid
- Can be prescribed as a pain reliever for medicinal uses
- Available in powder, injectable liquid, tablet, patch, and pill
- Fatal in a much smaller dose and can be absorbed through incidental contact or the skin

Heroin
- Semi-synthetic opioid
- Illegal drug without accepted medical uses
- Only available in powder
- Potential for quick overdose onset, resulting in lethal respiratory depression