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Signs of Sufentanil Abuse

Sufentanil abuse symptoms include using the drug non-medically, mixing the drug with other substances like alcohol, and tolerance—or 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 (Narcan) should be used.

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 related to the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, a highly potent opioid that has been linked to a significant rise in overdose deaths in recent years.[1]

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.[2]

The most common signs that someone might be abusing sufentanil include: [4],[5],[6]

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoric rush or a high
  • Nausea and constipation
  • Sedated calm
  • Initial euphoria followed by apathy
  • Depressed mood
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired memory or attention
  • Slurred speech

Other Noticeable Signs of Sufentanil Misuse

Some general signs of misusing sufentanil include:

  • Being secretive
  • Lying about where they are or who they are with
  • Doctor shopping, which means your loved one goes to many doctors to receive additional prescriptions
  • Empty pill bottles
  • Other drug paraphernalia, such as needles or mirrors

Signs of Injecting Sufentanil

Some signs of opioid abuse depend on the specific method of administration. If your friend or family member is injecting sufentanil, you may notice: [5]

  • Track lines
  • Collapsed veins
  • Cellulitis and abscesses
  • Circular scars

Signs of Snorting Sufentanil

If your loved one is snorting opioids like sufentanil, you may notice:[5]

  • Nosebleeds
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Damaged nasal mucosa
  • Perforated nasal septum

Sufentanil Withdrawal Symptoms

If your loved one has been abusing sufentanil for an extended period of time, they may be dependent on this opioid. This means their body has adapted to the presence of the drug and requires it to function optimally. If they suddenly stop taking this opioid, they’ll experience painful and unpleasant sufentanil withdrawal symptoms, such as: [4],[5],[6]

  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches and bone pain
  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
  • Cold and/or hot flashes, often accompanied by goosebumps
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fever
  • Runny nose and tearing eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive yawning
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Severe sufentanil cravings
  • Depressed mood

You may notice that your loved one seems to be getting sick more frequently, especially with flu-like symptoms. If they are misusing sufentanil, then they are likely unable to obtain any opioids in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms. 

Going through opioid withdrawal is often referred to as detox. Most people who are dealing with opioid dependence and withdrawal would benefit from medical detox as opposed to detoxing cold turkey. This involves the use of medications like methadone or buprenorphine to alleviate sufentanil withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.

Long-Term Risks of Sufentanil Abuse

Chronic sufentanil abuse can be extremely dangerous and increase the risk of many harmful psychological and physical consequences, such as: [7]

  • Fractures and accidents
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sleep-related breathing problems
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Weakened immune system
  • Tooth decay
  • Severe bowel obstruction
  • Chronic constipation
  • Heart attack
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Depression
  • Sufentanil addiction
  • Sufentanil overdose

Also, injecting this opioid can increase the risk of HIV, hepatitis, and infection of the heart lining.[4]

Increased Risk of Opioid Overdose

Long-term sufentanil misuse can increase the risk of overdose because chronic use can lead to tolerance. As tolerance builds, a person needs higher and higher doses to feel high. Taking increasingly high doses of sufentanil greatly increases the risk of an opioid overdose.

Signs of an opioid overdose include: [8]

  • Slowed or stopped heartbeat
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Inability to speak
  • Inability to waken or coma
  • Vomiting
  • Gurgling noises
  • Blue-ish fingernails or lips
  • Limp body
  • Clammy face

If you suspect a sufentanil overdose, call 911 immediately and stay by the person’s side until first responders arrive. Administer Narcan (naloxone) if you have access to it. Narcan can save a person’s life if they are overdosing on an opioid.

Recognizing the Signs of Sufentanil Addiction

Chronic sufentanil abuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Common signs that indicate sufentanil addiction include:[5],[6]

  • Developing a tolerance to sufentanil
  • Trying and failing to cut down on your sufentanil use
  • Spending significant time seeking out sufentanil or recovering from its use
  • Feeling strong cravings to use sufentanil
  • Sufentanil abuse interferes with normal obligations, especially important obligations like going to work, going to school, or taking care of children
  • Continued sufentanil 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 sufentanil abuse
  • Experiencing sufentanil withdrawal if you stop or reduce your drug use

If you recognize any of these symptoms of addiction in your loved one, they may need specialized sufentanil addiction treatment.

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 to us at Boca Recovery Center for help today.

Updated December 1, 2023
Resources
  1. Sufentanil citrate. National Cancer Institute.
  2. Comparison of the Analgesic Effect of Sufentanil versus Fentanyl in Intravenous Patient-Controlled Analgesia After Total Laparoscopic Hysterectomy: A Randomized, Double-blind, Prospective Study. (September 2019). International Journal of Medical Sciences.
  3. Effect of Equivalent Doses of Fentanyl, Sufentanil, and Remifentanil on the Incidence and Severity of Cough in Patients Undergoing Abdominal Surgery: A Prospective, Randomized, Double-Blind Study. (December 2008). Current Therapeutic Research.
  4. Prescription Opioids. (June 2021). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
  6. Opioid Addiction. (September 2022). StatPearls.
  7. Long-term opioid therapy reconsidered Von Korff, M., Kolodny, A., Deyo, R. A., & Chou, R. (2011). Annals of internal medicine, 155(5), 325–328.
  8. Opioid Overdose. Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration.
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