Understanding the risks of fentanyl use can help you avoid misusing it.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that is used for medical purposes, mostly in hospitals. Because it is easy to make and extremely potent, fentanyl is also a street drug that can be used alone or be cut into other drugs like heroin.
The Many Dangers of Fentanyl
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2 milligrams of fentanyl is all it takes to kill an adult. When fentanyl is used for medical reasons, it is carefully measured so that it is the right strength and can be used safely. This does not hold true for illicit forms of fentanyl, however, even though it may still be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Illegal fentanyl is not as carefully measured or tested as the medical-grade drug. The danger with illegal fentanyl is that it can easily contribute to a fatal overdose. Fentanyl is also added to other illicit drugs like heroin, sometimes without the person’s knowledge. When this happens, someone can easily overdose because they take the usual amount of the drug, but it is much more potent than expected.
Fentanyl is most safely used in medical situations, like in hospitals.
Another danger of fentanyl is accidental exposure. Most illegal drugs are not strong enough to cause illness or intoxication just by touching or inhaling the drug, but illness has happened with accidental exposure to fentanyl. The DEA has issued warnings to police officers and first responders about how accidental exposure to fentanyl can be lethal. Unfortunately, some people are now wary of touching common items in public, like shopping carts and railings, in case tiny amounts of fentanyl might have been transferred there.
Fentanyl overdose rates have doubled or tripled in only a few short years in some cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December that fentanyl (and fentanyl analogs) is now the deadliest drug in America, responsible for 28,400 overdose deaths in 2017. As communities have begun to take steps to combat the opioid epidemic, they have also had to face another fact about fentanyl that makes it even more deadly.
Narcan and Fentanyl
Most emergency personnel now carry Narcan (naloxone) to reverse overdoses, but Narcan is much less effective on fentanyl because fentanyl is synthetic and is more potent than heroin and other opioids. More Narcan is needed to treat a fentanyl overdose, but in many cases, first responders do not even know whether the person has taken fentanyl, which makes it difficult to know how much Narcan to administer.
Need help now? The Colorado fentanyl hotline can help those who want to report fentanyl exposure or need help with their own fentanyl use.
These reasons explain the rise in fentanyl overdose deaths. It does not help that the amount of fentanyl coming into the country likely more than tripled from 2013 to 2014, with seizures of the drug rising from 942 to 3,344 between those years.