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Addiction Behavior Drug Trends Glossary

Fentanyl: A Deadly Opioid Hiding in Plain Sight

1 year, 8 months ago

12499  0
Posted on Dec 30, 2021, 4 p.m.

Within the last six years, drug overdose deaths in the United States have more than doubled. In 2021, the numbers have exceeded 100,000 for the first time in this nation’s history. And while these death tolls are made up of a number of different drugs, researchers and epidemiologists are pointing to one drug as the main culprit: fentanyl. Here is what you need to know about this highly accessible opioid that is claiming lives in record numbers.

What Is Fentanyl?

Unlike opiate drugs made from the opium poppy plant, fentanyl is a synthetic drug (opioid) designed to be used only in extreme cases of pain management or for end-of-life treatment. Opioids bind to the opioid receptors in the brain that send pain and reward messages throughout the body. This makes opioids like fentanyl successful in relieving pain by interfering with the pain messages being sent throughout the body. Instead of sending pain messages, they produce a calming, euphoric effect.

Since fentanyl is meant to be used in limited applications, its health effects related to reproductive health and cancer risks are unknown and understudied compared to safer drugs. Additionally, fentanyl is designed specifically for severe cases and comes with very high potency. By comparison, it is 50-100 times more potent than other opioids, such as morphine and heroin. Because of this, it’s easy to understand why the production of fentanyl should stay within the restrictions and regulations of drug labs. 

Drug-Cutting 101

However, fentanyl production is slipping through the cracks and invading the streets at alarming rates. While fentanyl is being sold in record numbers across the United States, it’s not because people are buying bags of fentanyl pills for consumption. Instead, illicit drug users assume they are buying high-quality cocaine, heroin, hydrocodone, or other drugs. In other words, the use of fentanyl is hiding in plain sight inside other drugs that people assume they are buying. 

Illegally sourced fentanyl makes it into the United States by being purchased from Chinese manufactures on the dark web or drug cartel operations in Mexico. This is the dangerous world of drug-cutting, and fentanyl is playing a primary role in many drug-cutting operations due to its high potency. Dealers can cut their drugs with fentanyl and sell them as high-quality or premium versions without the buyer’s knowledge of what the drug really is. As you might expect, this not only makes overdose possible but a sad, ongoing reality. Stories continue to emerge of individuals who are dying from taking what they assume to be pain pills. Even long-term addicts of heroin or cocaine are dying by miscalculating the dosage of their drug of choice- unknowingly cut with highly-potent fentanyl. 

Risk Assessment

Even one dose of fentanyl can be lethal. But some dangerous non-fatal signs of overdose include comas and seizures. When an individual's respiration rate drops below 12 breaths per minute, this can indicate intoxication from fentanyl, and it is vitally important to seek medical attention immediately. Because there is no way to regulate the contents of illicit drugs, it should almost be assumed that what you buy contains trace amounts of fentanyl. 

Obviously, the safest option to ensure that you are not ingesting any amount of fentanyl is by abstaining from all illicit drug use. However, there are some short and long-term effects of fentanyl that are somewhat traceable. Short-term effects include things like decreased appetite, slurred speech, or decreased blood pressure. Long-term effects can include changes in the brain, organ damage, or respiratory issues- all of which can be further complicated when contracting a disease like COVID-19.  

With the high potency of fentanyl comes a wide range of problems. On the one hand, it is seen as the ultimate high for drug users and a cheap option for sellers to cut their drugs with. But on the other hand, fentanyl poses a very high risk of lethal overdose and a high risk of addiction. It is hard to overstate the danger of fentanyl because it raises the stakes in the opioid epidemic- as well as the overdose rate of any illicit drugs that use fentanyl for drug-cutting purposes. 

If you or anyone you know is currently involved in illicit drug use, it is not only possible but highly likely that fentanyl is part of the equation. And with no regulations in place, there is no warning or threshold to protect you or those you love from a lethal overdose. Take the advice from those who have experienced the sad reality of fentanyl overdose and seek professional help to run from this deadly opioid hiding in plain sight. 

This article was written by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.

Content may be edited for style and length.

Materials provided by:

Wall Street Journal. (2021, November, 17). Drug Overdose Deaths, Fueled by Fentanyl, Hit Record High in U.S. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). What Is in Fentanyl, and How Is It Made?. Retrieved

NIH. (2021, June). What is Fentanyl? Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.).The Most Potent (Strongest) Opioids Currently Available. Retrieved

DOJ (2021, July, 12). Ringleader of Extensive Sinaloa Cartel-Linked Fentanyl and Heroin Trafficking Network Sentenced. Retrieved

Wall Street Journal. (2016, October, 5). The Pill Makers Next Door: How America’s Opioid Crisis is Spreading. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Understanding Drug Cutting – What Is It and Why Does it Happen? Retrieved

Wall Street Journal. (2021, December, 16). Fentanyl Invades More Illicit Pills, With Deadly Consequences. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). What Amount of Fentanyl Causes an Overdose? (Plus Treatment Help) Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). What Are the Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl Use? Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Fentanyl Addiction: What Side Effects Should You Know About? Retrieved

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