Fentanyl is synthetic, meaning it’s manufactured in a lab.

It is not naturally occurring, although it has effects related to other drugs made from the opium poppy plant.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid analgesic used to treat pain in cancer patients suffering from severe pain. It is also sometimes used to address pain in end-of-life patients.

Never use fentanyl unless prescribed by a doctor. It will only be prescribed if you are in immense pain.

The drug is highly addictive and dangerous if abused. It is more potent than already strong opioids like heroin and morphine. An incredibly small dose of fentanyl can lead to a fatal overdose.

How is Fentanyl Made?

The drug is made by condensing propionyl chloride with N-(4-piperidyl)aniline and putting it through a variety of processes involving numerous other chemicals.

Like other synthetic opioids, it is not actually derived from the opium poppy plant. Its opioid moniker comes from the fact it binds with opioid receptors in the brain, just as opioids derived from opium do.

Synthetic opioids tend to be much more potent than non-synthetic opioids. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Where Is It Made?

Fentanyl intended for pharmaceutical use is made in legal, regulated drug labs. It is a Schedule II substance meaning it has a high potential for abuse.

While potent, it has some limited legitimate uses that justify its manufacture and sale. It is also used in some medical research.

Unfortunately, there has also been a growing trend of illicit manufacture fentanyl often called illicitly manufactured fentanyl, or IMF. Illicit fentanyl is usually made in makeshift labs.

The chemistry of its creation remains the same, but there is no regulation to its manufacture. This heightens the risks of using illicitly made fentanyl.

Derivatives are also being made, with synthetic opioids appearing on the black market that are even more potent than fentanyl and with no accepted medical use.

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According to the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), illicitly made fentanyl is primarily coming from Mexico. It is then smuggled into the U.S.

It is proving popular with drug dealers and people who abuse drugs for its powerful opioid effects. This is despite the immense danger of addiction and overdose it can pose to users.

Drug Cutting

Fentanyl has more uses on the black market drug scene than just being sold as-is. It is also used to trick buyers in a variety of ways.

Beyond being sold simply as fentanyl, the drug can be:

  • Combined with heroin and marketed as “better” heroin.
  • Combined with cocaine and marketed as “high-quality” cocaine.
  • Combined with any number of drugs to mimic a more expensive or more difficult to obtain the drug, such as many prescription drugs.

Generally speaking, fentanyl can be used to add a “kick” to another drug, giving it a more intense effect and making it more addictive. Often, the person being sold such a drug will not be told that fentanyl is in it. The batch might just be marketed as a top-shelf version of another drug.

“Since people don’t know fentanyl is in the drug they are taking, overdose is incredibly likely. They may take their usual dose of cocaine or heroin, but the addition of fentanyl can make this dose deadly.”


Certain elements of fentanyl are understudied, probably in part because it is intended for patients with difficult or terminal prognoses. In such cases, a drug’s less immediate health impacts may be less relevant.

There are still some questions even legitimate users may want answers to though. For example, it is presently unknown what sort of cancer risk (if any) it poses as a carcinogen. Any related reproductive or developmental impact is also unknown, although it can be assumed to, at a minimum, be in line with an opioid of its potency.

With the rise of its illicit manufacture and abuse, the medical world and law enforcement are essentially forced to deal with a variety of issues that would have been much less relevant in the tightly controlled medical setting the drug was intended for. Further studies need to be done on fentanyl, its effects on the body, and how to best overcome its abuse.

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