A skull and crossbones made out of fentanyl

Drug overdoses continue to be the leading cause of death amongst young people in the United States today. While several different drugs are involved in the crisis, one in particular is most to blame: fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.

Of the 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 that involved any opioid drug, 28,400 of these deaths were caused by fentanyl alone.

To make matters worse, countless other popular drugs are being laced with fentanyl, which is another major reason why drug overdose deaths reached over 70,000 in 2017. (1)

Here we will take a look into everything you need to know about fentanyl and its role in the drug overdose epidemic.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid drug that is used in medicine for chronic pain reliefA series of pills with people falling off of them and anesthesia.

Fentanyl belongs to the fully synthetic opioid class, meaning it is not derived from opium poppy.

Fentanyl is incredibly powerful, and is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine.

This means that fentanyl is active as much smaller doses than morphine, which is one of the main reasons it is so often fatal.

What is the history of fentanyl?

Fentanyl was first developed in 1959 and its use as an anesthetic began by 1960. Fentanyl has also been used as a prescription painkiller for some time now in various forms. Fentanyl is available in several pharmaceutical forms.

The following is a list of fentanyl containing medications (2):

  • Duragesic is a brand of fentanyl containing patches that releases the drug over an extended period of time for chronic pain relief
  • Actiq is a brand of fentanyl containing lollipops that are used to treat breakthrough pain
  • Abrstral is a sublingual tablet that contains fentanyl and is also used for breakthrough pain
  • Subsys is a fentanyl containing spray that is administered under the tongue for immediate pain relief
  • Lazanda is a nasal spray that delivers fentanyl for immediate pain relief

In the past decade, fentanyl has increasingly shown up on the illicit market. Fentanyl is commonly produced in clandestine labs overseas and smuggled into the United States.

These labs often lack quality controls that are in place in normal pharmaceutical manufacturing situations.

Fentanyl is rarely sold on the streets as a pure drug; rather it is mixed into other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and counterfeit prescription pills.

What makes fentanyl so dangerous?

The reason fentanyl containing drugs are so dangerous is twofold. First, the dose in which can cause a lethal overdose is almost always so small, that it is practically impossible for the user to detect its presence.

This small dose coupled with the extremely rapid onset of fentanyl means users typically will not realize what they have used until it is too late.

Second, those lacing drugs with fentanyl almost never have the knowledge or equipment to adequately mix the drug with whatever cutting agents are being used.

This means almost every batch is going to have a few doses in which are “hot”, or contain a lethal dose of fentanyl. (3)

What are the effects of fentanyl and signs of fentanyl use?

Fentanyl is typically used by snorting, injecting, or ingesting the drug and takes effect very rapidly.

Fentanyl produces effects similar to that of other opioids, and includes the follow signs and symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Sense of well-being
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Pinned pupils (4)

Is fentanyl addictive? What are the signs and symptoms of fentanyl withdrawal?

Fentanyl has an extremely high addiction potential, and repeated use causes both a physical and physiological addiction to the drug. Fentanyl abuse leads a rapid tolerance to develop, meaning the user will need to take ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effects.

Fentanyl causes physical dependence, meaning those addicted to it will experience a severe withdrawal syndrome if they suddenly stop taking it.

The withdrawal syndrome produced by fentanyl mirrors that of other opioids, and includes the following signs and symptoms (5):

  • Severe anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Teary eyes and frequent yawning
  • Agitation
  • Cold and hot flashes

Final Note

This article is intended for those considering a new way of life, free of the pain of drug and alcohol addiction. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/why-do-people-take-hallucinogens
  2. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/sites/getsmartaboutdrugs.com/files/publications/DoA_2017Ed_Updated_6.16.17.pdf#page=40
  3. https://www.dea.gov/docs/DIR-040-17_2017-NDTA.pdf
  4. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a605043.html
  5. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm