Fentanyl was introduced in the 1960s as an intravenous anesthetic. It is a “synthetic” opioid meaning that it is not derived from the poppy plant but instead is manufactured in a laboratory. The drug is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is commonly prescribed in the form of transdermal patches, sublingual sprays and tablets or lozenges. There are also injectable forms of fentanyl which are more commonly used for anesthetic purposes.
Over the past decade fentanyl has also found its way to the street where it is known as “Apache,” “China Girl,” “China Town,” “Goodfellas,” “Jackpot,” and others. Growth of illegal use of the drug has been due in part to fraudulent prescriptions, theft and illegal distribution by physicians, pharmacists, and patients. Additionally, illicit fentanyl, primarily manufactured in foreign labs and smuggled into the United States through Mexico, is being distributed across the country and sold on the illegal drug market.
Fentanyl is being mixed in with other illicit drugs to increase the potency of the drug. These illegal drugs are sold as powders and nasal sprays, and often pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioids. These counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl, with none of the promised drug. DEA analysis has found counterfeit pills ranging from .02 to 5.1 milligrams (more than twice the lethal dose) of fentanyl per tablet.
Drug trafficking organizations typically distribute fentanyl by the kilogram.
One kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.
In a study of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. the drug source was tied to illegally made fentanyl.
Source: Fentanyl Abuse Statistics - NCDAS (drugabusestatistics.org)
It is important to note that while overdose deaths from fentanyl are on the rise, nearly doubling annually, the overdose rates for other drugs have decreased. Fentanyl is a significant contributor to overdose deaths due to the incredible potency of just a small amount of the drug.
2 mg of fentanyl is a lethal dose, but doses as small as 0.25 mg place the user at a high risk of overdose.
In contrast, a lethal dose of heroin is 100 mg while 250 mg of cocaine is a lethal dose.
Fentanyl is also known to leave “hot spots” when it is cut into other drugs.
A hot spot is where a high concentration of fentanyl is isolated in a mix with another product. As a result, a user can receive a lethal dose when they ingest that hot spot. The drug has a depressive effect on the respiratory system and most overdose deaths are the result of asphyxiation.
Fentanyl is now a frequent topic in news headlines and was cited as the cause in the overdose deaths of a number of well-known celebrities including:
R&B artist Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at age 57 in his home in Chanhassen, Minnesota, on April 21, 2016
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Tom Petty died on October 2, 2017, from an accidental overdose of several painkillers, including fentanyl and oxycodone.
Musician Bobby Brown Jr died in late 2020 of an overdose including fentanyl as well as other substances
Rapper Mac Miller died from a fentanyl-laced oxycodone overdose on September 7, 2018
In a report released Monday June 13, 2022, the state of Kentucky reported that fatal drug overdoses rose nearly 15% in Kentucky last year, surpassing 2,000 deaths as a result of the increased use of fentanyl. The report showed that 2,250 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses in 2021.
These deaths are prevalent in both rural areas as well as the state’s largest cities. Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, reported it was the first time Kentucky surpassed 2,000 drug overdose deaths in a single year.
The Center for Disease Control reported that in 2021 more than 100,000 Americans had died of drug overdoses over a 12-month period. About two-thirds of the deaths were linked to fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.
As the fentanyl epidemic ravages our state and country, it is even more important to help those who have become addicted to fentanyl or other opioid substances. Overcoming opioid addiction is extremely difficult because of the impact it has on the brain, and we are proud to provide the services that can help individuals recover. If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction to opioid drugs, please reach out for help. There is hope!
Drug Fact Sheet: Fentanyl (dea.gov)
The Fentanyl Story (jpain.org)
Fentanyl | CDC's Response to the Opioid Overdose Epidemic | CDC
NCHS Data Brief, Number 428, December 2021 (cdc.gov)
Facts about Fentanyl (dea.gov)
Kentucky shatters its fatal overdose record; fentanyl blamed – WFTV