Over 130 people die each day in the United States from overdosing on opioids. Many opioid-related deaths involve more than one drug, but fentanyl has become the number one opioid killer.
Each year between 2013 and 2016 alone, fentanyl-related drug overdoses rose by over 100%.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is the strongest synthetic opioid pain reliever available for medical treatment – around 100 times stronger than morphine and 100 times stronger than heroin.
The drug is intended to numb pain during surgeries and reduce pain in patients with chronic, terminal illnesses like cancer. It’s often prescribed in the form of a slow-releasing patch, but is also available in the form of lozenges, and oral or nasal sprays.
Just like other opioids, fentanyl creates feelings of relaxation, relief from pain, and euphoria.
How is Fentanyl Being Abused?
Abuse of fentanyl has been increasing since the 1970s, especially in recent years as the opioid epidemic continues. The drug may be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. All methods of use are dangerous, though injecting carries with it additional risks.
Fentanyl abusers may make the drug in a laboratory, abuse a prescription, or divert legitimate medical supplies. Illegally manufactured versions of fentanyl may be multiple hundreds of times more potent than heroin. Often, the potency of illegally manufactured fentanyl may not be known to the user.
Overdoses on Fentanyl
Fentanyl has become the deadliest opioid in the United States. In 2016, synthetic opioids – primarily fentanyl – were responsible for nearly 50% of opioid related deaths. Just six years earlier in 2010, that number was at 14%.
Many people who overdose on fentanyl are not trying to do so – in fact, they may not have even known they were taking it.
The potency of street drugs like heroin and cocaine may be increased by adding just a small amount of fentanyl to them. Because the potency of illegal fentanyl can vary greatly, and the buyer may not have been told about the addition of fentanyl, it can be very easy to overdose by accident.
Since fentanyl is so strong, the difference between a dose that can get a person high and a dose that can kill a person is very small. Everybody handles fentanyl differently, depending on their height and weight, overall health, and whether they have built any tolerance to opioids. This is why it’s dangerous to use someone else’s fentanyl patch, even though the patch controls how much of the drug is released at a time. One person’s dose can kill another person.