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What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an extremely potent narcotic drug. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, it has accepted medical use as an analgesic, i.e., a drug that relieves pain. Unlike narcotics like heroin that derive from plants, fentanyl is a synthetic drug created in a lab. Scientists first developed it in 1959 as an anesthetic administered intravenously. 

Because of its high potential for abuse, fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance. This means that you cannot legally possess it without a written prescription from your doctor. Telephone prescription orders for fentanyl are not acceptable. 

What makes fentanyl abuse dangerous? 

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Therefore, exposure to even a very small amount can induce an overdose. Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include the following: 

  • Stupor or coma 
  • Pinpoint pupils 
  • Cold, clammy skin, possibly tinged blue 
  • Respiratory failure, potentially leading to death 

Where does fentanyl come from? 

Fentanyl is synthetically created in laboratories. Some of these are pharmaceutical facilities producing substances for legitimate medical purposes. Others are clandestine labs producing fentanyl illicitly. 

How is fentanyl abused? 

Fentanyl is sometimes an ingredient added to another drug of abuse, such as cocaine or heroin, while some who abuse fentanyl take it alone. A common legitimate administration route is a transdermal patch that transmits the drug through the skin gradually over the course of several hours. However, if the patch becomes diverted for illicit purposes, a person may remove the gel containing the drug from the patch and then ingest it or inject it. Fentanyl medication sometimes appears as tablets meant to dissolve under the tongue. Clandestine producers sometimes sell fentanyl as counterfeit tablets meant to mimic the appearance of legitimate doses.