Fentanyl is a strong narcotic typically used for people who have severe health conditions, such as cancer. However, in the past few years, people have started to add this drug to other substances to enhance their effects. For example, there are numerous reports of fentanyl being added to heroin, cocaine, and even marijuana.
Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid that has a strength 80 to 100 times that of morphine, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Many street drugs are being laced with fentanyl and people using these drugs are not aware of this in many cases.
Since 2011, the U.S. has seen a significant increase in overdose deaths from fentanyl. In 2016, 29 percent of all deaths associated with overdose were from fentanyl, according to a report in USA Today. This is up from 4 percent in 2011.
As of 2018, illegal use of fentanyl causes more deaths related to opioids than prescription opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This fact does include other synthetic opioids, but fentanyl is the most common drug found to be causing death.
Fentanyl is typically prescribed in the form of a lozenge or transdermal patch. The type of fentanyl being used with cocaine, heroin, and other illicit drugs is typically illegally made, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This may increase the risk of overdose since it is unknown exactly how people are making it. It is often unknown how much of this illegally made fentanyl is being added to street drugs before their distribution.
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As illicit drug makers continue to find new ways to incorporate fentanyl into their products, more common drugs of abuse are being tainted. In many cases, the people using the drugs are unaware that they contain fentanyl.
People are combining fentanyl with marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin. There are also cases of people manufacturing fake “Oxys” that are fentanyl, but they contain the imprint marking of oxycodone pills.
In some cases, the pills have no oxycodone at all, but only fentanyl at varying doses, according to a report released by the Gulfport Police Department. When people take these pills, they are expecting oxycodone, so they may take too much, which can result in a fentanyl overdose.
Much of the fentanyl being added to illicit drugs is homemade. This is due to it being difficult to obtain legitimate fentanyl on the street.
When people use fentanyl-laced drugs, and they do not know fentanyl is in these drugs, they often take their usual dose, which can equate to too much fentanyl. According to Dr. Jeanmarie Perrone, people come to the hospital and wake up after getting Narcan (naloxone), but they say they had no idea the drug they took had fentanyl in it.
Some people purposely seek out drugs mixed with fentanyl. This remains dangerous because it is not possible to determine the dosage they are getting.
It is not possible to determine if a drug is laced with fentanyl based on its look, taste, color, or consistency. However, there are strips that people can use to quickly determine if the drug they are about to take contains fentanyl.
People can easily carry the strips with them to test the drugs they are using. Take a very small amount of the drug and put it in water. Put the strip into the water, and it will tell someone if the drug they are about to take is laced with fentanyl, according to a report published in The Wall Street Journal.
The strips can be purchased without a prescription or any special credentials. Some drug stores have them, or they can be found online. This means that people using illicit drugs do have access to these strips to protect themselves.
People cut drugs with fentanyl because it makes it easier to smuggle the drugs, and the drugs are cheaper than heroin, according to an NBC News report. There are different fentanyl-like synthetic drugs that people are adding to street drugs, too. These include 3-methylfentanyl, acrylfentanyl, and furanylfentanyl.
Fentanyl is given in micrograms due to its high potency. Fentanyl can be lethal if someone takes just 2 mg (milligrams) of this drug, according to a report published by the United States Sentencing Commission.
Without quick treatment, a fentanyl overdose can be fatal. After taking a dose of fentanyl that is too much, someone can overdose within seconds to minutes, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The symptoms of an overdose are typically clearly noticeable.
When someone overdoses on fentanyl, they may display the following symptoms, according to MedlinePlus:
To help someone who is experiencing an overdose, give them naloxone if it is available. It may take more than one dose, depending on the amount of fentanyl or other narcotics they have taken. Naloxone should be administered properly and as soon as the overdose symptoms begin, if possible.
When fentanyl is combined with other drugs, people can experience the effects of both. This can make opioid side effects much stronger. It may also intensify some of the effects of stimulants.
If anyone is using drugs that may be laced with fentanyl, it is imperative that they seek treatment to avoid the dangers of this drug. The combination of fentanyl with any other drug has been shown to be fatal. Fentanyl is not a drug that should be taken recreationally, as it can rapidly lead to overdose and death.
Fentanyl. Drug Enforcement Administration. from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl
(December 2018) Fentanyl Now America’s Deadliest Drug, Federal Officials Say. USA Today. from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/12/12/fentanyl-now-america-deadliest-drug-overtakes-heroin/2287343002/
Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids Drug Overdose Deaths. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/fentanyl-other-synthetic-opioids-drug-overdose-deaths
Fentanyl. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/fentanyl.html
(May 2018) Counterfeit “Oxys” Containing Dangerous Fentanyl in Mississippi. Gulfport Police Department. from http://www.gulfportpolice.net/notices/public-notice-oxycodone-fentanyl/
(July 2018) Growing Array of Street Drugs Now Laced with Fentanyl. Medpage Today. from https://www.medpagetoday.com/primarycare/opioids/74071
(December 2018) Fentanyl’s New Foe: A Quick Test Strip That Can Prevent Overdoses. The Wall Street Journal. from https://www.wsj.com/articles/fentanyls-new-foe-a-quick-test-strip-that-can-prevent-overdoses-11546252200
(December 2018) Why Would Anyone Cut Heroin with Fentanyl? It’s Cheap, These Researchers Say. NBC News. from https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/americas-heroin-epidemic/why-would-anyone-cut-heroin-fentanyl-it-s-cheap-these-n943796
(September 2016) DEA Issues Carfentanil Warning to Police and Public. Drug Enforcement Administration. from https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2016/09/22/dea-issues-carfentanil-warning-police-and-public
(December 2017) For a Public Hearing on Fentanyl and Synthetic Cannabinoids. United States Sentencing Commission. from https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/amendment-process/public-hearings-and-meetings/20171205/Tella.pdf
(July 2018) Featured News: Rapid Response to Fentanyl Overdose is Critical. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. from https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/featured-news-rapid-response-fentanyl-overdose-critical/
Fentanyl Transdermal Patch. MedlinePlus. from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601202.html