Heroin vs. Fentanyl

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When it comes to deadly drugs, heroin and fentanyl are two of the most potent and dangerous substances out there. Unfortunately, they’re also both easily accessible, making them all too tempting for those struggling with addiction. So, which one is more addictive and deadly? Let’s take a closer look at heroin vs fentanyl.

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Heroin vs. Fentanyl & Natural vs. Synthetic

Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, a natural substance derived from the seed pod of poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Columbia. It comes in three forms: white powder, brown powder, and black tar. Depending upon the form, heroin is injected, snorted, or smoked.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid created in a lab that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. There are prescription and illegal versions of fentanyl

Illegal fentanyl is sold as powder, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like prescription opioids. Some drug dealers mix it with other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine because it takes so little to produce a high. This mixing of two powerful drugs by unsuspecting users has led to an explosion of overdoses and deaths.

Medical Use Purposes

Heroin is not used in medicine, as it does not have the same consistent effects as other pharmaceutical drugs. Fentanyl, however, has many uses in modern medicine due to its potency and fast-acting effects. Doctors prescribe the legal version for severe pain, especially after surgery. They also may use it with patients who suffer from chronic pain and are physically tolerant of other opioids.

Does Heroin or Fentanyl React More Quickly in the Brain?

Fentanyl acts much more quickly than heroin when ingested. It is estimated that the drug takes effect in as little as two minutes, which is significantly faster than other drugs like heroin, which can take longer to produce a high.

Both heroin and fentanyl act on the same receptors in the brain, producing a flood of dopamine that creates an intense rush of pleasure followed by a feeling of relaxation. The difference is that fentanyl’s effects are much more powerful and can be fatal if abused in large doses.

Common Side Effects of Heroin Use

The first euphoric effect of heroin — known as a rush — is followed by far less pleasant sensations. Users experience:

  • Dry mouth.
  • Warm flushing of the skin.
  • A heavy feeling in the arms and legs.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Severe itching.
  • Clouded thinking.
  • Fluctuations between states of being unconscious and semiconscious, known as going on the “nod.”

Withdrawal Symptoms

When a user withdraws from heroin, the symptoms become even more unpleasant. They may go through the following:

  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Excessive sweating and chills.

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Signs, Symptoms, & Effects of Using Fentanyl

Because of its strength, fentanyl’s effects are much more powerful than heroin’s, and even small doses of the drug can be deadly.

Fentanyl’s effects include:

  • Extreme happiness.
  • Sleepiness and sedation.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Fentanyl withdrawal is similar to heroin withdrawal, but the duration of symptoms may be longer due to the drug’s potency. Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea
  • Body aches and pains.
  • Extreme cravings for more of the drug.

Long-term use of either drug can have serious health consequences. Both can cause damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys and increase the risk for infections and other health problems such as hepatitis C and HIV. Additionally, heroin and fentanyl increase the risk of overdose due to their highly addictive nature. Regular use of either substance can also lead to psychological dependence and addiction, which can be challenging to overcome without professional help like that provided by Guardian Recovery. Finally, chronic users may experience increased tolerance levels which could lead them to take higher doses to achieve desired effects – a practice that often leads to fatal overdoses.

The safest way to clear the body of heroin and fentanyl is through a medically assisted opioid detox program offered by a state-licensed facility.

Accessibility & Cost Differences

Fentanyl is much more accessible and cheaper than heroin and is often used to cut heroin so dealers can make more money. Fentanyl can be produced in a lab setting, making it relatively easy to obtain even without trafficking. In addition, it has become increasingly popular due to its extreme potency and comparatively low cost.

Heroin, on the other hand, is harder to obtain as it must be trafficked from source countries and is typically more expensive. Additionally, heroin’s strength varies greatly depending on its purity levels, which makes it less attractive for users looking for a consistent high.

Which Is More Addictive?

Both drugs are highly addictive when abused in any amount. However, because of its sheer potency, fentanyl is often considered to be more addictive than heroin. Additionally, because it acts so quickly in the brain, fentanyl can create a more intense feeling of euphoria followed by a more intense withdrawal when users attempt to quit. This can make it difficult for people to stop using the drug even if they want to.

Is Heroin or Fentanyl More Deadly?

Fentanyl is often considered more deadly than heroin because of its potency and fast-acting effects. A small dose can be fatal, and even first-time users have died from a single use. Because it is so powerful, fentanyl is often used as a cutting agent for drugs like heroin, which can further increase the risk of overdose and death.

Absorption in the Body

Both heroin and fentanyl are absorbed quickly in the body, usually within seconds or minutes of ingestion. Fentanyl can also be absorbed through the skin, making it dangerous for anyone who handles it.

Once they reach the bloodstream, they can cross the blood-brain barrier and interact with opioid receptors in the brain. This creates a feeling of euphoria, which is often followed by feelings of calmness and pleasure. However, regular use of either drug can lead to tolerance levels that require users to take higher doses to achieve similar effects — a practice that often leads to fatal overdoses.

The nature of these substances makes anyone who comes in contact with them susceptible to a potential overdose. There have been sporadic reports of drug-sniffing dogs and law enforcement officers negatively affected by the drugs in the line of duty.

Overdose Death Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 13,000 people died from an overdose involving heroin in 2020. That rate was seven times higher than in 1999. Nearly 20% of overdose deaths involved heroin.

Data for fentanyl is a little harder to track because it is often combined with other opioids. But the CDC reports that 107,375 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and poisonings in the 12 months ending in January 2022. A shocking 67 percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

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Both heroin and fentanyl are potent opioids with a high potential for abuse and addiction. Fentanyl is significantly more powerful than heroin, and its effects take hold in as little as two minutes. Because of this potency, it poses a greater risk of overdose or death if abused or taken in large amounts. No matter the substance, the best way to overcome addiction is with the help of experienced, trusted professionals like those at Guardian Recovery. We provide comprehensive treatment, including medically-assisted detox, therapy, specialty programs, and reintegration support. Our caring and skilled administrative, medical, and clinical teams will guide you through every step of your recovery process from the first time you call. We provide a complimentary assessment and a free insurance benefits check and help coordinate local travel to our facility. All you have to do is ask; we will take care of the rest. Contact us today.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.statnews.com/2016/09/29/why-fentanyl-is-deadlier-than-heroin/
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/fentanyl
  3. https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/10/health/fentanyl-opioid-explainer/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/index.html
  5. https://www.dea.gov/fentanylawareness
  6. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2018-02-01/synthetic-opioids-put-police-dogs-risk

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Helpful, Recovery

Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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