Carfentanil Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment

Carfentanil: Side Effects, Abuse, and Withdrawal

What is Carfentanil?

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid analgesic. It was first synthesized in 1974 and was designed to be used as a large animal tranquilizer. It only takes a very small dose (10 mg) of carfentanil to sedate a large animal like an elephant and it is not intended for human consumption. Since it is so potent and powerful, it should only be used by veterinarians and it is not prescribed for humans for any medical purpose.

Carfentanil is estimated to be about 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl. It works by binding to certain types of opioid receptors in the body. When snorted, smoked, injected, or absorbed through the skin, it produces similar effects as other opioid drugs but causes severe respiratory depression within minutes of exposure. Not surprisingly, carfentanil has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths nationwide.

To add to its dangerous nature, carfentanil is also colorless and odorless in liquid form. In powder form, it may be a pale yellow or white powder, similar to heroin. Despite its extreme potency, it is being distributed on the street illegally, often mixed into bags of heroin, prescription pills, or fentanyl. There are also reports of carfentanil-laced cocaine in the U.S. and the dangerous cocktail known as the “gray death” contains a mixture of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, and other opioids.

Carfentanil can be deadly even in a tiny 2-milligram dose and many unsuspecting drug users accidentally overdose when unknowingly using carfentanil-laced heroin, cocaine, or other recreational drugs. Reports of fatal overdoses involving carfentanil in the U.S. are increasing, making this drug a very real threat to U.S. public health.

Slang for Carfentanil

The following terms are street names or slang for carfentanil:

  • Drop dead
  • Serial killer
  • Gray death
  • TNT
  • Apache
  • China girl
  • China white

How Common Is Carfentanil Abuse?

According to the World Health Organization, there are currently no controlled laboratory studies involving the abuse potential of carfentanil in any species, including humans. However, it is classified as a Schedule II drug by the DEA, which means it is a dangerous substance that has a high potential for abuse.

Carfentanil addiction is rare. Most drug users don’t purposely abuse carfentanil on its own due to the fact that it is extremely powerful and deadly. The majority of drug abusers accidentally ingest the drug while using other recreational substances that they purchased online, from a drug dealer, or from a friend.

It is difficult for medical experts and organizations to track the amount of carfentanil abuse in the U.S. because the drug is so easily hidden in other substances. Many of the resulting overdoses may not even be attributed to carfentanil, despite its presence.

What Are the Side Effects of Carfentanil Abuse?

Due to its extreme potency, the most common side effect of carfentanil abuse is death. However, if a person is able to use carfentanil and survive, the side effects will mimic those of other synthetic opioids.

Side effects of carfentanil abuse may include:

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety
  • Disorientation
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Clammy skin
  • Sedation
  • Death

What Are Common Signs and Symptoms of Carfentanil Abuse?

People who use other recreational opioids or drugs like heroin, cocaine, or fentanyl may be most at risk for accidentally using carfentanil. If a person is abusing carfentanil, he or she may not even know it, as the drug is often mixed in with other opioid drugs, counterfeit prescription pills, or cocaine. Additionally, a person abusing drugs that contain carfentanil may not even have the chance to abuse the drug recreationally for long before overdosing due to its extremely high potency.

If a person is abusing carfentanil, there are a few signs you can look for, such as:

  • Buying carfentanil online
  • Frequently abusing heroin, cocaine, or fentanyl
  • Using the street names listed above in casual conversation with friends

Carfentanil Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox

Since experts have not yet studied the effects of carfentanil abuse in humans, it is difficult to say exactly what carfentanil withdrawal would look like. However, since it is a synthetic opioid drug, carfentanil withdrawal symptoms could be similar to opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Low energy
  • Anxiety
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Teary eyes
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yawning

Opioid withdrawal can last anywhere from one week to one month and severe withdrawal symptoms may make it difficult to complete opioid withdrawal at home. A medical detox program for opioid addiction can help you overcome your physical dependence on carfentanil and other opioids while also ensuring your safety and comfort.

A medical opioid or carfentanil detox program may also reduce your relapse rate because you will have the support of trained addiction treatment professionals all throughout detox and withdrawal. Your carfentanil treatment team will also recommend ongoing addiction treatment options after detox so you can address other aspects of your addiction to carfentanil and other drugs, including behavioral, psychological, and social motivations. Although medically-assisted opioid detox is not a substitution for comprehensive carfentanil treatment, it is the best way to begin an effective addiction treatment program that will help you get sober and stay that way.

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Carfentanil Addiction Treatment Options

Carfentanil abusers aren’t likely addicted to the carfentanil itself, rather, they are addicted to the other substances it’s mixed with, such as heroin, cocaine, or fentanyl. As a result, carfentanil detox should address the complexities of polydrug abuse and ongoing treatment in rehab will likely be tailored to dual diagnosis and behavioral treatment.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction treatment of fewer than 90 days has limited effectiveness. Regardless of the type of drug addiction, a long-term addiction treatment plan has the best potential for providing long-lasting sobriety.

A 90-day inpatient or outpatient program will provide the following benefits for people who suffer from opioid addiction:

  • Chemical dependency education
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Relapse prevention strategies
  • Individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy
  • 12-Step Program participation
  • Life skills development

Inpatient Drug Rehab vs. Outpatient Drug Rehab

If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid addiction, you may choose to enroll in a rehab program. There are two main types of opioid or carfentanil rehab programs: inpatient and outpatient. An inpatient drug rehab program requires that clients live onsite at the rehab center while completing their treatment. Gender-specific group housing is provided and clients follow a very structured daily schedule. Family members and loved ones may visit at scheduled times, but overall, the clients’ access to the outside world is limited. This gives each client the ability and time they need to focus on negative behaviors, psychological issues, and social problems that have contributed to their addiction.

Conversely, an outpatient drug rehab program is a less structured form of carfentanil rehab and consists of group sessions that meet at a clinical location several times a week. Outpatient drug rehab typically lasts about eight weeks and consists of educational lectures, process groups, and group therapy. Outpatient clients have the flexibility to live at home and work or go to school while they are attending rehab, which makes it an attractive option for many people. However, those who have severe opioid addictions may need the structure provided in an inpatient program.

Although it can be difficult to determine which type of drug rehab is best for you or your loved one, an addiction treatment professional may be able to help you determine which option is best based on you or your loved one’s individual needs.

When choosing a rehab center, you may also want to consider other factors like:

  • Accreditation
  • Location
  • Services offered
  • Amenities offered
  • Cost and payment options

Nova Recovery Center offers several different payment options for potential clients, including the utilization of health insurance benefits, Employee Assistance Program benefits, financed healthcare loans, or reduced out-of-pocket payments.

Continued Care Options for Carfentanil Addiction Treatment

After completing a rehab program for opioid addiction, you or your loved one may also choose to continue treatment with a continued care plan that includes a sober living program or aftercare. Both of these types of programs are designed to help rehab alumni maintain their sobriety while they learn to live independent sober lives.

Sober Living Programs

Sober living houses are gender-specific group living environments that can be a residential home or apartment complex. Recovery programs are designed for alumni of rehab centers who are working to maintain their sobriety. Whether you are newly sober or have been sober for a year, a sober living home can provide structure, accountability, and a safe, sober living environment.

Many sober living programs also provide additional recovery support services, such as:

  • Individual sober coaches
  • Tiered recovery programming
  • Regular drug testing
  • Education, employment, and volunteer assistance

Clients enrolled in a sober living program may also choose to enroll in IOP or continue with individual counseling sessions simultaneously to further enhance their recovery support.

The cost of a sober living program will vary depending on factors like the home’s location, the amenities, and services offered, and the type of living space(s) available for clients.

Aftercare Programs

An aftercare program is another type of continued care option for people who are recovering from opioid addiction. Aftercare is a series of group meetings facilitated at a secure, clinical location. Many people in recovery use these meetings as their weekly “check-in” and draw from the support of their peers in recovery to remain sober and accountable.

Aftercare meetings are intended to be a safe, supportive environment where people in recovery can be heard and identify with others in similar situations. Clients in recovery use the meeting time to share personal experiences, provide continued support and advice to others, and continue to learn about the addiction recovery process through personal and shared experiences.

Although carfentanil abuse and opioid addiction can be an extremely destructive and deadly force in your life, there is hope for recovery and sustained sobriety. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid abuse and addiction, please call Nova Recovery Center today. We are ready to help you find freedom in sobriety.


  1. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/carfentanil#section=Top
  2. http://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/Critical_Review_Carfentanil.pdf
  3. http://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/Critical_Review_Carfentanil.pdf
  4. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edky/file/898991/download
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/emerging-trends-alerts
  6. https://drugfreeva.org/sink-or-swim/drug-facts/street-drugs/carfentanil/
  7. https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2016/09/22/dea-issues-carfentanil-warning-police-and-public
  8. https://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/opioid-opiate-recovery.htm

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