Is Fentanyl an Opioid?

Is fentanyl an opioid? New Life Medical Addiciton Services explains.

Many people who are concerned with addiction ask us the question – Is fentanyl an opioid? In this post, we will discuss fentanyl, its relationship to heroin and the opioid class of drugs, and why it is uniquely dangerous.

Both heroin and fentanyl are opioid drugs that are short duration and highly addictive drugs. Heroin and fentanyl work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain that are designed to reduce pain. This is why opioid-based drugs are prescribed in medical situations like surgery.

These substances produce a sense of euphoria that people can easily become addicted to. While there are many similarities between fentanyl and heroin, there are some significant differences that everyone should be aware of. Below we discuss these differences in detail.


Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine, which in turn is produced from the seed heads of opium poppies

According to the latest data from the CDC, “In 2019, …more than 14,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States, a rate of more than four deaths for every 100,000 Americans.  The number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was more than seven times higher in 2019 than in 1999 (and) Nearly a third of all opioid deaths involved heroin”

Heroin has no accepted medical use and is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, making it illegal at the federal level.

The heroin that is available for illegal purchase comes either as a black and tarry substance or as a powder. Heroin users may smoke, inject, or crush and snort/inhale this substance to get high.

Frighteningly, heroin use can lead to addiction after just a single experience using the drug. Furthermore, heroin is a central nervous system depressant that slows breathing and bodily functions. Because of this, fatal overdoses are common among people who take too much of the drug.

At New Life, our treatment for addiction to heroin consists of medically assisted detox, behavioral therapy, and long-term peer support.


Fentanyl is a lab-created drug that is considered to be one of the strongest opioids. Since it is sometimes prescribed for medical use to treat major and severe or chronic pain, fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance. Fentanyl works as a euphoric and a pain reliever in the same way as morphine, however, it is far more potent.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Fentanyl is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Because of this, the fatal dose of fentanyl can be quite small.

When fentanyl is prescribed by a physician, it is usually administered via an adhesive patch, through an injection or through a dissolvable oral lozenge. However, illegal fentanyl is often manufactured in underground labs or smuggled in from countries like China.

When sold on the streets, fentanyl is sometimes mixed with drugs like heroin, cocaine, or Xanax to deliver a cheaper price and a more potent high.

Heroin and Fentanyl – What are the differences?

The main difference between heroin fentanyl and is that fentanyl is more potent and deadly than heroin.

Although fentanyl is more powerful than heroin, it is usually less expensive and easier to purchase than heroin. This is why drug dealers make such extensive use of fentanyl in cutting into their other illegal products to boost their potencies and addictive qualities.

The difference in strength between heroin and fentanyl comes about because differences in their chemical make-up. In each case, the active chemicals bind to the mu opioid receptor in the brain. But fentanyl gets there faster than morphine because it more easily passes through the fatty layer of the brain.

Both heroin and fentanyl provide an immediate and powerful high that is extremely addictive. Common side effects of using fentanyl, heroin and other opioids include:

  • Euphoria
  • Sedation
  • Confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Flushed skin
  • Itching
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cotton mouth
  • Slowed breathing
  • Unconsciousness

If used over an extended period, both fentanyl and heroin can produce serious health impacts. Those who abuse fentanyl or heroin through injection can suffer from collapsed veins, infections, and the risk blood-transmitted diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. Other impacts can include damage to the heart, lungs, and brain.

Heroin and Fentanyl Overdose

When taken in high doses, both drugs can lead to an overdose. The main threat from fentanyl is that there is no way to know how much has been consumed. And, since it is so powerful in such small quantities, overdose is always a possibility.

Some of the signs of a heroin or fentanyl overdose include:

  • Lowered body temperature
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Blue fingers or lips
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

Narcan (naloxone) may be effective in reversing heroin and fentanyl overdoses and in keeping a person breathing until appropriate medical attention can arrive.


Both heroin and fentanyl are highly addictive. People who use these substances over time are almost certain to develop a tolerance, which means that more and more of the substance needs to be used in order to receive the same effect.

On the other hand, when a long-term user of opioids attempts to quit, they can experience a number of withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • Body pains
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

New Life Medical Addiction Services, located in Marlton, New Jersey, treats patients who are suffering with addiction to heroin or fentanyl through a unique, outpatient approach to medical detox, rehabilitation substance abuse counseling, and peer support.

To speak to someone at New Life, call us at: 856-942-3700 or send us a Text Message.

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