What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.1,2 It is a prescription drug that is also made and used illegally. Like morphine, it is a medicine that is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery.3 It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.4 Tolerance occurs when you need a higher and/or more frequent amount of a drug to get the desired effects.
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.4,5 Street names for illegally used fentanyl include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Jackpot, Murder 8, and Tango & Cash.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, 59.8 percent of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 14.3 percent in 2010.
How do people use?
When prescribed by a doctor, fentanyl can be given as a shot, a patch that is put on a person’s skin, or as lozenges that are sucked like cough drops.6
The illegally used drug most often associated with recent overdoses is made in labs. This synthetic fentanyl is sold illegally as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids.7
Some drug dealers are mixing this drug with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. This is because it takes very little to produce a high with this drug, making it a cheaper option. This is especially risky when people taking drugs don’t realize they might contain this as a cheap but dangerous additive. They might be taking stronger opioids than their bodies are used to and can be more likely to overdose. To learn more about the mixture of this drug into other drugs, visit the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Facts on fentanyl.