Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
As authorities and medical personnel struggle to cope with the growing number of fentanyl-related overdoses in the United States, one recurring issue is the hidden presence of fentanyl in other less-lethal substances.
These fentanyl-laced drugs not only pose a significant health threat to individuals who ingest them unknowingly, but they also make it difficult for healthcare professionals to adequately care for patients who may have come into contact with a fentanyl-laced substance.
By taking a proactive approach to avoid fentanyl and other fentanyl-laced drugs, you can help protect yourself and others from the deadly side effects that come along with these substances, and give medical facilities the upper hand in combating the ongoing rise of fentanyl deaths.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid that was initially developed to provide pain relief for patients who failed to respond to traditional pain medications.
On average, fentanyl is between 50 to 100 times stronger than other popular opioid medications like morphine, making it an ideal treatment option for scenarios where advanced pain management is needed, such as with cancer patients.
What is Fentanyl used for?
When administered in a hospital setting, fentanyl can offer rapid pain relief when other medications have proven to be ineffective.
Traditionally, fentanyl is distributed through a topical patch on the skin, allowing it to absorb into the patient’s bloodstream within just minutes of being applied.
However, because of fentanyl’s potency and high risk for abuse, patients being given this drug for medical reasons are closely monitored by hospital staff for any potential side effects or overdose symptoms.
Fentanyl should not be used without the care and oversight of trained medical professionals.
Where does Fentanyl come from?
To understand the root cause of the fentanyl crisis, it’s important to examine how fentanyl is becoming laced with other substances, and where these “street dealers” are getting the resources to distribute such deadly drugs.
With that being said, there are two primary sources of fentanyl production that you should be aware of.
Legally Produced Fentanyl
Like other prescription opioid medications, fentanyl is derived from the poppy plant and produced in a medical laboratory.
These facilities take extra care to ensure that the drugs being produced aren’t being mixed with outside substances, and are delivered in the appropriate dosage amount, so that hospital staff can effectively treat their patients without risking a dangerous drug interaction.
Legally produced fentanyl can be found as…
- IV injections
To put it simply, the only way to ensure that the fentanyl you’ve received, as well as any other opioid medications, has been safely produced by a medical laboratory is to have it prescribed directly by your doctor.
Illegally Produced Fentanyl
Of course, the majority of fentanyl-related deaths aren’t necessarily linked to the types of opioids administered in hospitals.
Instead, these illegally produced drugs are created in makeshift laboratories overseas, and then trafficked into the United States alongside other substances.
According to recent reports, the countries responsible for most of the illegal fentanyl found in the U.S. are Mexico and China.
What does Fentanyl look like?
While it’s nearly impossible to visible distinguish fentanyl from other opioid drugs, illegally produced fentanyl typically comes in either a powder or pill form.
In many cases, drug dealers will sell fentanyl disguised as another popular medication like oxycodone, making it difficult for individuals to know whether or not the substances they are using have been cut with fentanyl before it’s too late.
How are drugs being laced with Fentanyl?
Despite the increase in awareness surrounding fentanyl-related overdoses in the U.S., illicit drug makers continue to lace or “cut” fentanyl with other substances, so that they can increase their drug supply and keep their buyers coming back for more.
Usually, fentanyl is added to other drugs during the production process, whether that means lacing it in powder form or crushing it with other drugs to create highly potent pain pills.
And while local drug dealers may know that the substances they’re selling contain fentanyl, it’s difficult to know the concentration or dosage amount of the drug present, since this occurs during the manufacturing process.
The most common drugs laced with fentanyl include…
On their own, these drugs can have deadly side effects. But when laced with fentanyl, the risk of an overdose increases drastically.
Why are drugs being laced with Fentanyl?
Ultimately, the practice of cutting fentanyl with other substances comes down to the way it benefits people selling illicit drugs, even when their customers are completely oblivious to the fentanyl they’re consuming.
For illegal drug makers and dealers, fentanyl can act as a potent filler that increases the likelihood of addiction and keeps their buyers coming back for more, despite the potentially deadly consequences.
Here are the 3 driving factors that encourage drug makers to continue lacing with fentanyl…
While substances like heroin and meth are dangerous on their own, adding fentanyl to any other drug increases the possibility of the user becoming addicted, eventually forcing them to continue buying more and more to get their fix.
This deadly type of “supply and demand” is attributed to fentanyl’s unmatched potency, as it can be more than 50 times as powerful as other opioids like morphine. Once a user experiences a fentanyl high, they may find it difficult to go back to less intense substances.
In many cases, creating “pure” drugs is a most costly operation than synthesizing multiple substances together into one finished product. So, by lacing fentanyl with other popular street drugs, dealers can expand their product supply without needing to spend additional resources to create one specific drug.
This causes dealers and their higher-ups to earn even more money, which is what drives these types of operations to keep expanding.
Finally, the higher supply numbers and increased demand from addicts allow drug dealers to charge even more for these illegal substances, banking on the power of addiction to line their pockets.
As users become more desperate for a fix, dealers will continue to charge more and more for each batch of fentanyl-laced drugs, leading to an escalation in the underground illicit drug industry.
What are the effects of lacing Fentanyl with other drugs?
On its own, fentanyl is an incredibly addictive and dangerous substance. But when used simultaneously with other drugs, fentanyl increases the likelihood of an overdose, as the user will experience the effects of both substances at the same time.
For example, meth laced with fentanyl would cause the person using it to experience symptoms from both drugs concurrently, including withdrawal and overdose symptoms.
Fentanyl side effects include…
- Shallow breathing
- Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
- Sweaty, clammy skin
- Body aches and chills
- Difficulty staying awake
- Troubles speaking or communicating
- Nausea or vomiting
If any of these symptoms are present, the person may be experiencing an overdose and needs immediate medical intervention.
How can I prevent a Fentanyl overdose?
While illicit drug makers continue to practice cutting fentanyl with other substances, despite the rapidly increasing rate of fentanyl-related deaths in the U.S., there are a few things you can do to help prevent an overdose for yourself or someone close to you.
DON’T Buy Street Drugs
Even when you buy drugs from someone you know and trust, there’s no way to verify whether the substances you receive are fentanyl-laced or not. That’s why it’s crucial to only take drugs provided to you by a medical professional, either with a prescription or in a hospital setting. Read our post about the danger of rainbow fentanyl
DO Follow Medical Guidance
If you’ve been offered fentanyl or other opioid medications as part of a pain management treatment plan, you need to be sure that you only use these substances as directed by your Doctor. If you ever have concerns about potential drug side effects, stop your usage and consult with your physician as quickly as possible.
DON’T Be Afraid To Seek Help
Whether you buy drugs from a dealer or are prescribed them by a medical professional, there is always a chance that addiction can develop. If you suspect you are becoming dependent on these substances, seek local resources for addiction, and don’t be afraid to talk about your concerns with your Doctors, family, and friends.
DO Take Preventative Measures
Even with precautions, fentanyl usage is an extremely risky practice. If you know someone who is using these substances regularly, then investing in an opioid-blocker like Naloxone can help prevent an overdose on the spot, and potentially save the life of someone you love. Read more about how Naloxone works here
By continuing to further our understanding of why these drug-lacing practices occur, we can spread even more awareness about the dangers of taking fentanyl-laced drugs and take the necessary steps toward eliminating fentanyl deaths across the country. Learn more about how S&G Labs is sharing our commitment to fentanyl overdose prevention today.
Curious about the current Fentanyl crisis in Hawaii? Our CEO Dr. Lynn Welch speaks with Kristy Tamashiro from KHON about the current fentanyl epidemic. Watch her interview here: https://www.khon2.com/hawaii-crime/hawaii-police-investigates-suspected-fentanyl-related-overdoses/