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Fentanyl Compared to Heroin

fetanyl vs heroin

As the opioid epidemic rages on, knowledge about the substances and dangers involved can be life-saving. It is easy to get lost in the headlines of overdose deaths and drug lacing trends. In these cases, understanding the risks involved with just one use can potentially deter an individual from seeking them in the first place. Banyan’s military rehab center is looking at the similarities and differences between fentanyl compared to heroin.  

Facts About Heroin  

Heroin is an opioid that is derived from morphine, a natural substance derived from the opium poppy plant. The seeds are processed into either a white or brown powder or as a black, sticky substance. This is where the phrase “black tar” heroin comes from. It is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that it is completely illegal in the United States with no accepted medical uses. Users will take heroin by either smoking, snorting, or injecting it.  

Effects of Heroin use include: 

  • A sudden rush of euphoria or extreme pleasure 
  • A heavy feeling sensation in the limbs 
  • Skin flushing 
  • Insomnia 
  • Collapsed veins from injected drug use 
  • Heart infection 
  • Abscesses 
  • Stomach issues like cramping, constipation, nausea, and vomiting 

Being that heroin is often injected intravenously, users also run the risk of contracting blood-borne diseases like hepatitis and HIV from shared needles. It is possible to overdose on heroin, and how much it would take for such a reaction is not known beforehand. This makes abstaining from any use not only a legality but a necessity. 

Facts About Fentanyl 

A key difference between heroin and fentanyl is that the latter is a synthetic opioid as opposed to a naturally made one. Additionally, fentanyl is far stronger than its opioid counterpart. While producing similar effects, it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It can be prescribed by a doctor and is typically used to treat severe pain, especially in patients who have recently undergone surgery. It is also used for patients who have developed a tolerance for other opioids.  

In 2017, 59% of opioid-related drug deaths involved fentanyl, making synthetic opioids the most common substances involved in overdose deaths in the US.1  If prescribed, fentanyl can be taken as a shot, as a lozenge, or as a patch that is placed on the patient's skin. Illegally made synthetic fentanyl is created in labs and is sold as a powder, given in nasal sprays or eye droppers, or made into pill form where it resembles other opioids.  

Short-term effects of fentanyl include: 

  • Constipation 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Shallow, slowed breathing 
  • Pinpoint pupils 
  • Visible confusion 
  • Tiredness 

It is absolutely possible to overdose on fentanyl, especially if it is done illicitly. The slowed breathing associated with fentanyl use can result in hypoxia or a decrease in the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain. This, in turn, can result in a coma, death, or permanent brain damage. The potency of this drug also makes it extremely addictive. It is also often used to lace other substances by dealers and traffickers, with a rise in these incidents making illegal drug use more dangerous than ever before.                                  

An Opioid Comparison 

Fentanyl and heroin possess a number of similarities due to their origins and mechanisms. Aside from the fact that they are both highly addictive, there are other factors to keep in mind when comparing the two. 


  • Semi-synthetic 
  • Illegal with no current medical uses 
  • Typically produced as a powder 
  • It can be injected, smoked, or snorted 
  • Produces a short but intense rush  
  • Potential for a rapid onslaught of overdose 
  • Abuse can result in respiratory depression  
  • Medical detox is necessary and may involve the use of opioid replacements to safely withdraw the substance from the body 


  • Synthetic opioid 
  • Manufactured illicitly but can be legally prescribed as a powerful painkiller 
  • Administered as a powder, injectable liquid, tablet, lozenge, pill, or patch 
  • Typically, those who abuse it will smoke, inject, or snort the substance 
  • Quickly produces an intense but short-lived rush  
  • It can be lethal in very small doses, with the potential to be absorbed through the skin 
  • Similar to heroin, it requires detox with some form of opioid replacement medication 
  • Comprehensive rehabilitation necessary for recovery 

If you or a loved one is a veteran or active-duty and is struggling with an addiction to either substance discussed above, our military addiction treatment center is equipped with medical detox that can assist in the withdrawal process. Additionally, drug addiction treatment for veterans can come in the form of inpatient, outpatient, or partial hospitalization programs.  

To learn more about our veterans’ addiction treatment centers, call Banyan at 888-280-4763 today. 




NIH - Fentanyl DrugFacts 


Related Readings 

Heroin Addiction in Veterans: Signs, Side Effects, & Treatment 

Acetyl Fentanyl: Fake Heroin Dangers 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Fentanyl Compared to Heroin
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