What is fentanyl? Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. 1.

It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges and can be diverted for misuse and abuse in the United States.

However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl.2 It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. It is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine as a combination product—with or without the user’s knowledge—to increase its euphoric effects.

 

The death rate of synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes drugs such as tramadol and fentanyl, increased by 72.2% from 2014 to 2015.1 Synthetic opioid death rates (other than methadone) increased across all demographics, regions, and numerous states. Recent state reports have indicated that increases in synthetic opioid-involved deaths have been associated with the number of drug products obtained by law enforcement testing positive for fentanyl but not fentanyl prescribing rates. These reports indicate that increases in synthetic opioid-involved deaths are being driven by increases in fentanyl-involved overdose deaths, which are likely due to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.2,3

References
  1. Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 16 December 2016. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6550e1.
  2. Gladden RM, Martinez P, Seth P. Fentanyl law enforcement submissions and increases in synthetic opioid-Involved overdose deaths - 27 states, 2013-2014. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65(33):837-43.
  3. Peterson AB, Gladden RM, Delcher C, Spies E, Garcia-Williams A, Wang Y, et al. Increases in fentanyl-related overdose deaths - Florida and Ohio, 2013-2015. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65(33):844-9.

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