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Sufentanil Abuse Symptoms | Signs & Dangers To Watch For

Sufentanil abuse symptoms include using the drug outside of the parameters of a valid prescription, mixing the drug with other substances of abuse, including alcohol, and tolerance forming (needing to take higher doses to experience the same effects).

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Sufentanil has legitimate medical uses, but it’s a potent opioid with a high level of abuse and addiction potential. It is most associated with the euphoric high and sedating calm it can trigger, but it can also cause confusion, drowsiness, nausea, and constipation. 

At high doses, sufentanil (like most opioids) can cause life-threatening respiratory depression that can lead to coma, brain damage, and death. In the event of an overdose, naloxone should be used.

What Are the Most Common Signs & Symptoms of Sufentanil Abuse?

Sufentanil citrate, usually just called sufentanil, is an opioid, specifically a synthetic congener of fentanyl. This means it is closely chemically related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, a well-known and highly potent opioid that has been linked to a significant rise in opioid-related deaths since its use has become widespread.

While the subject isn’t highly studied, sufentanil seems to have a higher level of potency compared to fentanyl (although it has lower risks in certain areas, such as causing less respiratory depression). Sufentanil has been shown to induce cough during induction of general anesthesia at a similar rate compared to fentanyl. 

The danger with abuse is that it substantially increases one’s risk of addiction

The most common signs of taking opioids like sufentanil include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoric rush or a high
  • Nausea and constipation
  • Sedated calm

What Are the Dangers of Sufentanil?

As is true of all opioids, sufentanil causes respiratory depression, meaning it weakens breathing. At higher doses or used in combination with other drugs that cause respiratory depression, including alcohol or other opioids, this effect can get so severe that the body can no longer get enough oxygen to the brain. 

This can result in hypoxia, which means low levels of oxygen to the brain. This can lead to coma, permanent brain damage, or even death. The best way to avoid this risk is to only use sufentanil as prescribed.

Sufentanil is likely to cause physical dependence when used long term. This describes a situation in which the body adjusts to a drug with repeated use, so the presence of the drug is essentially treated as a body’s “normal” state. In the absence of that drug, the body will experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms as it adjusts back to the drug’s absence through a process called withdrawal

While people addicted to drugs will often also be physically dependent on those drugs, physical dependence does not mean a person is necessarily addicted to a drug. For example, people who take sufentanil or other opioids as prescribed for several weeks may become dependent on the medications even though they are not abusing them.

Opioids like sufentanil are also considered highly addictive. Part of what makes them pleasurable to abuse is the way in which they cause a large release of dopamine, a neurochemical that makes activities certain pleasurable. This makes drug abuse feel highly rewarding. It is possible for a person to eventually feel psychologically compelled to abuse drugs, even when they logically know that the drug abuse is causing them impairment.

Effects of Sufentanil Use & Abuse

With legitimate use, sufentanil can still cause undesirable side effects. However, because when you are taking the drug under the supervision of a medical professional, many of the dangers can be avoided and managed, such as the risk of severe respiratory depression. 

When taking any opioid, you should stay in contact with a medical professional regularly to discuss how you are doing with the medication, especially if you start to feel you cannot function without it or have started taking more than was prescribed to you. Some people may not intend to abuse the drug, but they may take more than their normal dose if they feel it isn’t providing sufficient relief. This practice is dangerous. 

With abuse, the effects of sufentanil will get more intense and debilitating. A person may experience significant drowsiness and confusion. Vomiting can occur with normal use, but this is normally rare (and you should mention it to a doctor if it occurs). It is more common with abuse of the drug. 

The biggest danger with abuse is that it substantially increases one’s risk of addiction. If abuse continues, overdose is much more likely.

Using an opioid or opioids while pregnant can cause a fetus to develop dependence on opioids in the womb and experience withdrawal after birth, which is called neonatal abstinence syndrome. Opioids are also associated with a higher risk of miscarriage or low birth weight. If you are taking opioids and get pregnant, you should speak with a doctor, especially if you feel you cannot stop using them without help. 

Recognizing Sufentanil Addiction

Common signs that signify an addiction to sufentanil include the following:

  • Developing a tolerance to a drug or otherwise taking more to achieve the same effect as a lower dose once had
  • Trying and failing to cut down on your use of a drug
  • Spending significant time seeking out a drug or recovering from its use
  • Feeling strong cravings to engage in drug abuse
  • Drug abuse interfering with normal obligations, especially important obligations like going to work, going to school, or taking care of children
  • Continued drug abuse despite recognizing it is causing disruptions and doing harm in your life
  • Reducing the amount of time spent on other activities in order to engage in drug abuse
  • Experiencing withdrawal if you stop or reduces your drug use

If you believe you may be addicted to a substance, you should talk to a medical professional. Even if you don’t believe you have an addiction, but notice drug use seems to be having a negative impact on your life, you should still talk with a professional. They can assess your substance abuse, diagnose the situation, and provide guidance on how to better manage the negative impacts your drug use is causing.

Sufentanil Withdrawal Symptoms

If you think you need to detox from opioids, first talk to a doctor

Common symptoms of opioid withdrawal, including withdrawal from sufentanil, include the following:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Pain in bones and muscles
  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Cold and/or hot flashes, often accompanied by goosebumps
  • Heavy sweating
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Severe drug cravings

Going through opioid withdrawal is often referred to as detox. Most people who are dealing with opioid dependence choose medication-assisted treatment (MAT) rather than going through traditional detox. This involves the use of medications like methadone or buprenorphine to reduce drug cravings and avoid withdrawal. MAT increases the likelihood of success in recovery and reduces the risk of relapse, thereby decreasing the risk of fatal overdose.

If you think you need to detox from opioids, first talk to a doctor about alternatives that may get you the same or similar results. The goal is sustained recovery.

What to Do in the Event of an Overdose

If you or someone else may be experiencing an opioid overdose, including an overdose on sufentanil, don’t wait to make sure it is an emergency. The faster an overdose gets treated, the less likely it is that permanent damage occurs.

If available, the drug naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose. It should be administered the moment it is believed an opioid overdose may have occurred. If you or someone you know uses sufentanil, you should ask for a prescription for naloxone.

Whether naloxone is used or not, call 911. Important information to convey clearly includes your location, the medical history of the person who has overdosed (if known), all substances (both licit and illicit) they have taken recently (not just opioids), and their current condition. Most places have laws in place to protect people from legal action as a result of these calls, with the goal of encouraging people to call for help if someone may be overdosing. 

Get Help

If you’ve been abusing sufentanil or any other opioid regularly, the risks and dangers increase as the abuse continues. Like any form of substance abuse, earlier intervention and treatment result in better long-term outcomes. Reach out for help today.

Updated August 15, 2023
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