Fentanyl is what is considered a synthetic opioid, meaning that it is not made from plants but rather in a lab. Fentanyl was created for relieving pain in post-surgery patients, and it is 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is legal as a prescription drug for medical use, yet it can also be made illegally and sold as a street drug.
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is commonly passed off as other illicit drugs since it is more potent and cheaper to produce. Fentanyl laced drugs are responsible for many drug overdose deaths in the United States; in fact, most opioid overdoses are due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Fentanyl can come in many different forms. When prescribed by a doctor, the drug is typically administered as a shot, a patch put on the patient’s skin, or a lozenge for the patient to suck on like a cough drop. With illegal fentanyl, it is usually made to pass as another drug and it is mixed in a batch of that drug.
Powdered fentanyl is made to look identical to coke or pure white heroin, while pills of fentanyl are made to look like Percocet or oxycodone. Fentanyl can also be pressed into pills that look similar to MDMA. It can be almost impossible to detect the presence of fentanyl in these drugs with the human eye, which is why fentanyl test strips are so important in making sure drugs are not laced.
Counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl can be slightly discolored, although the difference is so minuscule that it’s very easy to miss. This increases the danger associated with the drug, as a small dose of fentanyl such as what is used to lace other drugs can still lead to fentanyl overdose, and people who use drugs are always at risk of accidentally buying laced drugs.
Besides being made to look like other street drugs, illegal fentanyl can also be sold in other forms such as blotter paper, eye droppers, and nasal sprays. With these forms, people are typically aware that they are consuming fentanyl, although they may believe that they have a high enough tolerance to withstand the drug due to prior opioid use or substance use disorders.
However, the potency of fentanyl makes it incredibly easy to overdose on this drug. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are responsible for the increase in overdose deaths during recent years. Much of the street drug supply has been laced with fentanyl due to the low cost of production, and the only way to be sure you are not consuming fentanyl unintentionally is by using drug testing kits.
As with all opioids, fentanyl works by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. These opioid receptors are responsible for controlling pain and emotions, which is why people develop a dependence on these drugs. After taking opioids for an extended period of time, the body adapts to the presence of the drug and people must take more to feel the same effects, which is known as developing a tolerance.
This leads to an eventual opioid addiction as people must take the drug to feel pleasurable emotions, since prolonged drug use causes other factors to not create the same happy feelings. When someone becomes addicted to opioids, ending the drug use can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that make people less likely to seek sobriety.