medical treatments

Fentanyl facts: What are its side effects and overdose symptoms?

Lorenz Pasion

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Fentanyl facts: What are its side effects and overdose symptoms?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stupor, changes in pupil size, and clammy skin, are among the common symptoms of fentanyl overdose

MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. blamed fentanyl for the erratic behavior of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte during a rally against charter change in Davao City on Sunday, January 28.

Duterte drew cheers during the rally after accusing Marcos of being on the government’s drug watch list.

“Bongbong, he’s high. That’s why I’m telling you. Bongbong Marcos was high back then. Now that he’s the president, he’s still high. You, in the military, especially those in Malacañang, you know it. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, you know it. We have a drug addict for a president! That son of a whore!” Duterte said in Filipino.

Marcos hit back at his predecessor on Monday, January 29, bringing up Duterte’s use of fentanyl, which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, is a synthetic opioid “50 times stronger than heroine and 100 times stronger than morphine.” It is also a “major contributor to non-fatal and fatal drug overdoses in the US,” according to the CDC.

In 2016, the former president admitted using fentanyl patches to relieve pain from his spinal issues. 

“[Former president Duterte] has been taking the drug for a very long time now. When was the last time he told us he was taking fentanyl? Five or six years ago? After five or six years, it has to affect him. Kaya palagay ko nagkakaganyan (Maybe that’s why he is behaving that way). I hope his doctors take better care of him than this – hindi pinababayaan itong mga nagiging problema (and not allow these problems to go unattended),” Marcos said on Monday.

According to multiple drug-related government agencies in the United States, the following are the effects of using fentanyl:

Powerful sedative

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said on their website that similar to other opioids, it has the following effects:

  • Sedation
  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Pain relief

Because of its sedative properties, a type of the drug known as pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain, the US CDC website said.

However, the DEA also said the drug can also cause confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, narrowing of the pupil, and respiratory depression, or breathing too slowly or shallowly.

Signs of overdose

Although useful as a pain reliever in prescribed doses, the US CDC said an overdose of fentanyl could lead to the following: 

  • Stupor
  • Changes in pupil size
  • Clammy skin
  • Cyanosis or the bluish discoloration of the skin due to low levels of oxygen

The US CDC said one can tell if a person is overdosed with fentanyl if he or she shows multiple symptoms such as pinpoint pupils (they remain small even if exposed to bright light) and respiratory depression.

In worst cases, fentanly could induce a coma and respiratory failure leading to death.

A growing problem

A study done by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that overdose deaths from stimulants with fentanyl “have risen 50-fold” since 2010.

Published in UCLA’s peer-reviewed journal Addiction, the study said the rise in fentanyl fatalities constitute the “fourth wave” in the long-running opioid crisis in the US.

In a Senate hearing on the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s  (PDEA) proposed budget for 2024 last September 2023, PDEA Director General Moro Virgilio Lazo said the Philippines has “no cases” of fentanyl seizures in the country. 

Replying to Lazo, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said that there “might be people in the Philippines already using fentanyl” but are just under the radar of PDEA. He also said the agency should just prepare for it.

Methamphetamine hydrochloride or “shabu” – commonly referred to as the “poor man’s cocaine” – remains to be the leading drug of abuse, followed by cannabis or “marijuana” and MDMA or “ecstasy” for males with a mean age of 33, the Philippine Dangerous Drugs Board said in its 2022 report. – Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    President Marcos Jr.’s reply was well said. Despite former President Digong’s tirade against him as a drug addict, he appeared both emphatic and sympathetic in his reply. The hidden message is that “he (Digong) has said that I am a drug addict because he has a drug addiction problem himself.” Well done, Mr. President!

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Lorenz Pasion

Lorenz Pasion is a researcher at Rappler and a member of its fact-check team that debunks false claims that spread on social media.