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Heroin and Fentanyl

Heroin and fentanyl are both opioids. These drugs work by binding to the opioid receptors in the part of a person’s brain that receives pain messages. These medications can allow an individual to experience powerful pain relief after they have endured physical trauma from an accident or surgery. When a person takes an opioid, they can experience feelings of euphoria and extraordinary relaxation. Both heroin and fentanyl are extremely potent and are associated with high rates of addiction. Although there are many similarities between heroin and fentanyl, they have key differences that can lead to a significant impact on a user’s life if they take the two interchangeably.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is one of the most powerful opiate-based painkillers in existence. It is used to treat chronic pain in patients who have developed a tolerance to less powerful opiates. It is a Schedule II drug, which means that it is prescribed for medical use and can be obtained legally with a prescription. Individuals who are approved to be treated with fentanyl usually suffer from severe pain, such as those suffering from advanced stages of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list that fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It can be prescribed in the form of transdermal patches, lozenges, buccal and sublingual tablets, and nasal or oral sprays, and only requires a minimal dosage to produce intense relief.

When purchased on the street, fentanyl can be found as a powder or in tablet form, allowing users to ingest, crush and snort, smoke, or inject the substance. Fentanyl patches can be sucked on, chewed, or inserted into the body; the gel can also be scraped off the patches and injected. Illegal drug markets have also been discovered to produce illegal, synthetic fentanyl in pill form, to make the drug appear like other prescription opioid medications like Vicodin or OxyContin. The prevalence of fentanyl throughout illegal drug markets has allowed the substance to become easier to find and sold at prices cheaper than heroin.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is derived from the natural substance morphine, which comes from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. It is a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that it has been determined to have absolutely no medical use and is considered to be highly addictive. This means that all forms of heroin are illegal and that there is therefore no legal way to obtain it.

In recent years, a significant portion of the U.S. heroin supply has been mixed with synthetically-created illegal fentanyl, resulting in a dramatic increase in overdose deaths. Illegal fentanyl is commonly sold in the guise of heroin, to users seeking the effects of a natural opioid. In many cases, it is mixed with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine as a combination product. Users are not always aware of the combination of drugs, nor the potency of the mixture that they are ingesting, making it lethal even in small doses.  

Quick Comparisons Between Fentanyl and Heroin


  • Illegal drug with no accepted medical use
  • Can be injected, smoked, or snorted
  • Fast-acting, with a short and an intense rush
  • Semi-synthetic opioid
  • Manufactured in powder form
  • Highly addictive
  • Usually requires medical detox and a long-term recovery process


  • Available by prescription and is also manufactured illegally
  • Ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected when abused
  • Fast-acting, with a short and an intense rush
  • Synthetic opioid
  • Manufactured as a pill, patch, lozenge, tablet, injectable liquid, and powder
  • Highly addictive
  • Usually requires medical detox and a long-term recovery process

Overdose Potential and Side Effects

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were 46,802 opioid drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2018, and two out of three opioid-involved overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Overdose fatalities involving heroin or fentanyl continue to rise. More cases are coming to light in which people do not realize that the drug they are taking contains fentanyl, which puts them at a much higher risk of overdose and death. Over the course of the ongoing pandemic, studies have shown a continuous climb in the rates of opioid-related overdose and death.

While fentanyl and heroin have their differences, they offer a number of the same life-threatening side effects. Consequences of opioid abuse can include:

  • Sedation and confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Severe itching all over the body
  • Constipation
  • Lack of control of body
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Erratic behavior
  • Respiratory failure
  • Coma
  • Death

Medical professionals across the world have made it clear that addiction to heroin or fentanyl can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if you attempt to break your habits alone, without expert supervision. If you or a loved one are struggling, reach out to professional help as soon as possible.


When a person is struggling with a heroin or fentanyl addiction, receiving care from professionals is the most effective way to guarantee a safe, healthy recovery. Our country is experiencing an opioid epidemic, with alarming rates of overdose and death continuing to climb. The illicit, hidden nature of fentanyl can pose dangerous threats even to users who think they’re only using substances they’re familiar with. If you or someone you know is experiencing unusual side effects, alarming withdrawal symptoms, or developing addiction, seek professional assistance immediately. If you need help breaking free from addition, reach out to RECO Intensive today. RECO Intensive is committed to helping you win your battle against addiction to heroin or fentanyl. We can provide you or your loved ones with personalized treatment options that include inpatient and outpatient treatment and continued care after detox. Don’t wait to get help. Call us at (561) 464-6533 to learn more.

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