Why is fentanyl so dangerous?

Fentanyl is an incredibly powerful opioid. Similar to other opioids, fentanyl relieves pain by Heroin-Fentanyl-Overdose-FANbinding to opioid receptors in the brain which slows down nerve activity. If you take too much, the suppression of the nervous system can cause shallow to no breathing. Heroin and fentanyl look identical and it can be hard to determine if something has fentanyl laced in it. This makes it much more deadly as there has been an increase in the number of cases where dealers lace fentanyl in other drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Users who are unaware their drugs are laced with fentanyl face a higher chance of overdosing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), deaths from fentanyl overdose tripled from 3,105 in 2013 to 9,580 in 2015. This is likely from drugs increasingly containing fentanyl. To combat this risk, more users are utilizing fentanyl test strips which allow them to test any substance for the presence of fentanyl. 

Further, fentanyl has transdermal properties which make it easy to administer via a skin patch. Essentially, the drug has the ability to enter the bloodstream through the skin. However, this also makes it far deadlier, as simply being around the powdered form of the drug can cause someone to accidentally come in contact with it and potentially overdose. 

What is the lethal dose of fentanyl?

The lethal dose of fentanyl is around 3mg. For reference, a typical worker ant weighs around 1-5mg.

What is Carfentanil?

Carfentanil is a chemical derivative of fentanyl and is increasingly on the streets. For simplicity sake, if fentanyl is a plain donut, carfentanil would be a glazed donut- essentially the same chemical makeup but one small variation changes its form completely. It is medically used to tranquilize large mammals such as elephants and is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. Carfentanil is incredibly dangerous and even the slightest exposure will likely cause an immediate overdose and death.

Fentanyl vs. Morphine: What’s the difference?

Fentanyl and morphine are pretty similar in respect to their effects on the body. They’re both powerful opioids which provide intense painkilling relief by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. They’re also both considered schedule II drugs by the DEA which means they are considered to have medical uses but have high potential for misuse and abuse. This is likely due to the euphoric high induced by the drugs.

However, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid whereas morphine is naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. By far the biggest difference between the two is their potency. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine. However, this only applies to medically processed forms of the drugs. Street level fentanyl and morphine could be much stronger. 

What does fentanyl look like?

Fentanyl looks very similar to other drugs such as heroin and is typically in a white powdered form. This makes it hard to identify if something has been laced with fentanyl.

How is fentanyl ingested?

Medically, the most common way of administering the drug is via fentanyl patches. The use of a transdermal patch allows for the gradual release of the drug into the body which in return provides long term relief for chronic pain. 

In general, illicit fentanyl consumption comes in the form of accidental ingestion. With opioid use on the rise, the amount of drugs laced with fentanyl is also growing and taking its toll on drug users. Further, given that fentanyl looks identical to certain drugs such as heroin and cocaine in their powdered forms, most people would not be able to recognize that their drug has been laced with fentanyl. Casual drug users are potentially at heightened risk as they have no tolerance to opioids. Someone without any prior exposure to fentanyl might go into overdose right away.

How long does fentanyl stay in your system?

Depending on the type of test and dosage, fentanyl can be detected in the body via: Fentanyl-FAN

  • Urine test between 24-72 hours after consumption
  • Blood test between 5-48 hours after consumption
  • Hair tests up to 3 months after consumption

To get more technical, the half life of fentanyl is considered to be around 3-7 hours. However, this represents the time required for the chemical to leave your body, not for all traces of the drug to disappear.

What does fentanyl withdrawal look like?

In general, opioid withdrawal can occur around 12-30 hours after the last dosage. Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Chills
  • Backache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • High blood pressure


Once addicted to an opioid, quitting and recovery may seem impossible. The withdrawal symptoms, mental and physical, are usually enough to keep people coming back for more. However, prolonged use of opioids poses serious health risks. As an individual’s body begins to adjust to the opioid, the dosage must increase in order to experience the same high. At some point, that dosage reaches increasingly high levels and poses serious risks including overdose and death.

Many professionals do not recommend individuals attempt to stop opioid use on their own. Withdrawal symptoms and psychological dependencies are incredibly exhausting and often prove impossible for most to overcome alone. Therefore, it’s better for someone struggling with addiction to reach out to trained professionals who have the tools and knowledge to best help you on your path to recovery. 

Treatment for fentanyl is no different than other opioids. Research has shown that treatment through medication combined with behavioral therapies is effective in helping individuals move on from their opioid addiction and prepare them for success.