Fact Checked and Peer Reviewed
August 23, 2018
You’ve probably heard about fentanyl, the opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and that is responsible for half of all opioid overdose deaths in the US.
Fentanyl is a major public health problem. Below, we have broken down what you should know about this deadly drug:
Q: What is fentanyl?
A: Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin. Some fentanyl analogs (opioids that are structurally similar to fentanyl) are even stronger.
For instance, carfentanyl and lofentanyl, opioids that are used to tranquilize elephants and as chemical weapons, are 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 5,000 times stronger than heroin.
Q: Are there any medical uses for fentanyl?
A: Fentanyl is used to sedate patients during procedures and to treat cancer pain.
Q: How do people get a hold of fentanyl?
A: Fentanyl found on the street is usually imported from China and is mixed with other drugs like heroin and cocaine or sold as another opioid like oxycodone. This is extremely dangerous because most people do not know that they are dealing with fentanyl which can lead to fatal overdoses.
Q: What is the public health impact of fentanyl?
A: In 2016, half of all opioid overdose deaths were caused by fentanyl and its analogs. In many states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, such as Ohio, Michigan, New Hampshire, West Virginia and California, fentanyl is a major problem.
A: Yes, but according to the CDC it may take multiple doses of naloxone to reverse a fentanyl overdose because of how potent the drug is. Furthermore, the life-threatening symptoms of a fentanyl overdose happen very quickly so your window for giving naloxone is small.
Q: What are governments doing to combat the fentanyl problem?
A: Many communities, such as Flint, Michigan, alert people through social media if a batch of heroin or cocaine is found to be laced with fentanyl.
Ali Safawi is a Workit Associate and former Intern. He is an alumni of the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is pursuing his masters degree at George Washington University in our nation’s capitol. He is passionate about fighting the opioid epidemic and creating a more equitable health system for all Americans.