How Dangerous is Fentanyl?

The recent increases in overdose deaths all across the United States are caused, in part, by fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely dangerous synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine and 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier, providing a short but intense effect. Even in miniscule amounts, the drug can cause irreversible overdose and death.
The true danger of fentanyl is just how little of the drug is capable of causing overdose. Fentanyl is often mixed in with heroin and cocaine, rarely with the buyer’s knowledge. One cap of heroin may not contain any fentanyl, while another cap in the same batch could contain enough to cause an immediate overdose.
Lewis Nelson, a medical toxicologist at NYU’s School of Medicine, explained in a 2016 Forbes article by Alice G. Walton entitled Why Fentanyl Is So Much More Deadly Than Heroin, “The reason so many are dying is because the dose is relatively uncontrolled with street fentanyl, and small excesses can lead to overdose. There’s nothing inherently more dangerous about fentanyl than other opioids except the way it is dosed and sold.” The problem continues to get worse as evidenced by the skyrocketing rates of overdose in the United States.
Nicole Lewis, in a 2017 Washington Post article entitled Fentanyl Linked to Thousands of Urban Overdose Deaths, explained, “In 24 of the nation’s largest cities and the counties that surround them, fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased nearly 600 percent from 2014 to 2016.” In 2014, there were 582 fentanyl overdose deaths in those cities in 2014. By 2016, there were 3,946. Michael Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New England division, told the Washington Post, “If anything can be likened to a weapon of mass destruction in what it can to to a community, it’s fentanyl. It’s manufactured death.”
Fentanyl regularly shows up in tests of other illicit street drugs like heroin and cocaine. A person person does not even need to intentionally take the drug to be affected by it. DEA Special Agent John Martin, in a 2017 CNN Health article entitled Fentanyl: The Powerful Opioid That Killed Prince, said, “Just micrograms can make a difference between life and death. It’s that serious. All you have to do is touch it. It can be absorbed through the skin and the eyes.” As overdose rates continue to climb, it becomes more and more dangerous for a person to use illicit opioids that could contain fentanyl.

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