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Sufentanil Addiction

Sufentanil is a fentanyl analog, meaning it’s chemically similar but designed to do something different. Sufentanil is much stronger than its counterpart, and it’s much more dangerous.

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Few people know much about sufentanil addiction, as the drug is relatively new, and few people seek it out. Many people are introduced to it when sufentanil contaminates other drugs. But sufentanil is also the active ingredient in the brand name drug Dsuvia.

But knowing what addiction looks like and how it’s treated is important. If you develop an addiction, you can get help. 

What Is Sufentanil?

Sufentanil is a fentanyl analog. In the 1980s, doctors used this medication for surgical anesthesia.[1] Now, it’s used for many other purposes. It’s one of the strongest opioids available. 

Doctors now use sufentanil in hospitals and clinics to help people with significant pain and discomfort. Two forms of the drug exist: injections and sublingual tablets (sold as Dsuvia). Most are only FDA-approved for doctor administration, and they can’t be used for longer than 72 hours.[2] 

These limits are in place because sufentanil is both powerful and dangerous. Keeping the drug out of home use is one way experts hope to limit overdose risks and associated deaths. 

When experts talk about overdose risks, they often focus on fentanyl. This drug is much stronger than other opioids like morphine. But sufentanil is 5 to 10 times stronger than fentanyl.[3] It’s one of the strongest drugs in the opioid class. 

Key Facts About Sufentanil

Key Facts

  • Sufentanil is only available in hospitals, clinics, and healthcare settings. Consumer pharmacies don’t carry this drug. 
  • Sufentanil is 5 to 10 times stronger than fentanyl (often considered one of the most deadly of all opioids).[3]
  • Sufentanil is 500 times more potent than morphine.[4]
  • Both oral and intravenous forms of sufentanil are available. 
  • The FDA says sufentanil should not be used for longer than 72 hours.[2]

Sufentanil Uses 

Sufentanil isn’t an everyday, routine opioid doctors use for pain control. It’s designed for short-term treatment of significant pain. Doctors may also use it to keep you asleep during surgery. 

Since sufentanil is so powerful, it’s never designed for at-home use. Don’t expect a doctor to write a prescription that you can fill at a pharmacy near you. 

Addiction Potential: How Addictive Is Sufentanil?

Some researchers say that sufentanil is less addictive than other drugs like fentanyl. It’s slow to enter the bloodstream when compared to other drugs, so it doesn’t cause intense euphoria like fentanyl does.[4]

However, other researchers point out that anesthesiologists choose sufentanil over other substances. They abuse this drug and struggle to quit without help.[5] 

Dsuvia (sufentanil) is up to 10 times more potent than fentanyl and was FDA-approved in October 2018. Some experts say approval was rushed, as the safety profile wasn’t proven.[6]

Sufentanil Side Effects & Risks 

Sufentanil is a very powerful medication that comes with multiple side effects. Some are common and appear in most people. Others are less common, but they can be severe. 

Common Side Effects 

Most people who use sufentanil experience the following side effects:[2]

  • Nausea
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain

Unwanted effects may include the following:[2]

  • Weakness 
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • High body temperature

More severe and less common side effects include the following:[2]

  • Bloody urine
  • Chest pain
  • Burning or tingling sensations
  • Decreased heart rate 
  • Shallow breathing

Researchers aren’t sure how sufentanil impacts the human body for long periods. This medication is only approved for short-term use, so they haven’t outlined what it might do if you keep using it long-term. 

Common Side Effects Less-Common Side Effects 
Nausea Bloody urine 
Hot flashes Chest pain 
Watery eyes Slow heart rate
Joint pain Shallow breathing 
Muscle pain Menstrual complications 
Sources: [2,4]

Overdose Risks 

As with any opioid, overdose is possible with Dsuvia or sufentanil. It’s even more likely due to its potency.

Sufentanil overdose occurs because the drug works directly on the central nervous system (CNS). Breathing rates slow, and brain cells are starved of oxygen. The person may seem sleepy or exhausted, but they could be dying. 

Signs of sufentanil overdose include the following:[2]

  • Respiratory depression
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Slipping in and out of consciousness
  • Abnormal blood pressure

If you spot these signs, call 911 immediately. Administer naloxone (Narcan) if available to reverse the overdose. 

Stay with the person until help arrives. And offer another Narcan dose if the 911 operator says you should. 

Sufentanil Withdrawal Symptoms 

Opioids like sufentanil can change brain chemistry in lasting ways. If you use the drug for longer than the recommended time, your brain cells could become accustomed to the drug. When you quit suddenly, you may experience both physical and mental health symptoms. 

Withdrawal symptoms include the following:[2]

  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep issues
  • Chills
  • Stomach cramps
  • Body aches
  • Joint and muscle pain

Medical detox reduces the risk of relapse and gives an individual a good foundation for long-term recovery. It’s always recommended to consult a medical professional before stopping the use of sufentanil or any other opioid after abuse or long-term use.

Sufentanil Addiction Treatment & Detox 

It’s very difficult to quit opioids like sufentanil without help. Withdrawal discomfort and overwhelming cravings could make you return to drugs. 

And if you’re faced with a difficult situation, your difficulties strengthen. Treatment can help, and it might include the following components:

Medical Detox 

Severe vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can be life-threatening. With medical care, withdrawal can be managed, and you can stay safe.

In a medical detox program, doctors use medications like buprenorphine and methadone to replace sufentanil. You won’t get high on these therapies, but you also won’t feel withdrawal or cravings. Your risk of relapse lowers as a result. 


A rehabilitation program helps you to create a life that supports your recovery. You’ll work with counselors and doctors on your addiction every day, and your skills will strengthen and grow with time. 

Some people enroll in inpatient programs, allowing them to move away from their stressors. Others use outpatient programs, so they live at home while they get better. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment 

The same medications used in medical detox could support your long-term recovery. In a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, your team administers enough medications to help you avoid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. And you take them as long as you need to ensure you stay sober.  

Behavioral Therapy

Counseling is an important part of MAT. In sessions with a professional, you unpack your relapse risks and triggers. And you build skills that can help you overcome these challenges. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one method therapists might use to help you learn more about how your thought patterns impact your drug use risks. Your treatment providers may incorporate other types of therapy into your program, and these options might change depending on what works best for you at that point in your recovery.

Sufentanil Addiction Frequently Asked Questions 

We’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about sufentanil addiction. 

How long does sufentanil stay in your system?

Sufentanil has a half-life of 13.4 hours, which is one of the longest in the opioid class.[2] Expect a dose to stay in your system for several days and appear in most drug tests for even longer.

Is sufentanil an opioid?

Yes, sufentanil is a painkiller in the opioid class. 

What is sufentanil used for?

Sufentanil is used in medical settings to treat severe pain. And some doctors use this medication for surgical anesthesia.

How strong is sufentanil?

Sufentanil is a fentanyl analog and can be up to 5 to 10 times more powerful than fentanyl and 1,200 times more powerful than morphine.

How is sufentanil administered?

Sufentanil is administered via an injection or dissolving tablet. 

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 5, 2024
  1. Monk JP, Beresford R, Ward A. Sufentanil. A review of its pharmacological properties and therapeutic use. Drugs. 1988 Sep;36(3):286-313. doi: 10.2165/00003495-198836030-00003. PMID: 2903821
  2. DSUVIA prescribing information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed July 24, 2023.
  3. Oh SK, Lee IO, Lim BG, et al. Comparison of the analgesic effect of sufentanil versus fentanyl in intravenous patient-controlled analgesia after total laparoscopic hysterectomy: A randomized, double-blind, prospective study. Int J Med Sci. 2019;16(11):1439-1446. Published 2019 Sep 20. doi:10.7150/ijms.34656
  4. The newest battlefield opioid, sublingual sufentanil: A proposal to refine opioid usage in the U.S. military. Kim s, Buckenmaier C, Howe E, Choi K. Military Medicine. 2002;187(3-4):77-83.
  5. Kintz P, Villain M, Dumestre V, Cirimele V. Evidence of addiction by anesthesiologists as documented by hair analysis. Forensic Sci Int. 2005 Oct 4;153(1):81-4. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2005.04.033. PMID: 15967611.
  6. Bernstein MH, Beaudoin FL, Magill M. Response to FDA Commissioner's statement on Dsuvia approval. Addiction. 2019;114(4):757-758. doi:10.1111/add.14539
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