The US Fentanyl Crisis
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The US Fentanyl Crisis

Fentanyl and other opioids are driving the biggest drug crisis in US history. More than 1,500 Americans die each week as a result of opioid addiction, making it the leading cause of fatal overdoses in the country. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogues, increased by more than 22% between 2020 and 2021.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is a leading cause of fatal and nonfatal overdoses in the United States. There are two types of fentanyl: prescription fentanyl and illicit fentanyl. Both are considered synthetic opioids. Doctors use pharmaceutical fentanyl to alleviate extreme pain, particularly after surgery and in advanced stages of cancer.

However, the majority of recent fentanyl-related overdoses have been connected to illegally manufactured fentanyl, which is disseminated through illicit drug markets for its heroin-like impact. It is frequently combined with other drugs due to its tremendous strength, which makes drugs cheaper, more powerful, addictive, and more hazardous.

Key Facts

  • The name "opioids" refers to chemicals derived from the poppy plant (Papaver somniferum), as well as semisynthetic and synthetic molecules with comparable qualities that can interact with opioid receptors in the brain.
  • Opioids, which include morphine, fentanyl, and tramadol, are widely used to alleviate pain.
  • Nonmedical usage, long-term use, misuse, and use without medical supervision can all lead to opioid dependence and other health issues.
  • Opioids, due to their pharmacological properties, can cause difficulty breathing, and an opioid overdose can be fatal.
  • In 2019, drug use caused approximately 600,000 fatalities worldwide. Nearly 80% of these deaths are caused by opioids, with opioid overdose accounting for approximately 25%.
  • There are effective opioid dependence treatment programmes that can reduce the risk of overdose, but less than 10% of those in need receive them.
  • If provided promptly, the medicine naloxone can save a person's life from an opioid overdose.

Illegally Manufactured Fentanyl

Illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is available on the drug market in a variety of forms, including liquid and powder.

Powdered fentanyl resembles several other narcotics. It is routinely blended with narcotics such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine to create pills that resemble other prescription opioids. Fentanyl-laced medicines are exceedingly hazardous, and many consumers may not be aware that they contain fentanyl.


The term "opioids" refers to chemicals derived from the poppy plant (Papaver somniferum) as well as semisynthetic and synthetic molecules with comparable qualities that can interact with opioid receptors in the brain. Opioids have both analgesic and sedative properties, and drugs like morphine, codeine, and fentanyl are routinely used to treat pain. Methadone and buprenorphine, opioid medications, are used to treat opioid dependence. Opioids can generate euphoria after ingestion, which is one of the primary reasons for their use for non-medical purposes. Opioids include heroin, morphine, codeine, fentanyl, methadone, tramadol, and other related medications. Because of their pharmacological effects, opioids can cause breathing problems, and an opioid overdose can be fatal.

Regular non-medical usage, long-term use, misuse, and use without medical supervision can all lead to opioid dependence and other health issues. Opioid dependency is a regulatory condition caused by the repetitive or continuous use of opioids. The defining aspect of dependency is a strong internal need to use opioids, which presents itself as reduced capacity to control use, prioritising use over other activities, and persisting in use despite damage or negative consequences. Physiological signs of dependency may also exist, such as increasing tolerance to opioid effects, withdrawal symptoms after cessation or reduction in usage, or repeated use of opioids or pharmacologically similar medications to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms.

In 2021, an estimated 296 million people (or 5.8% of the global population aged 15 to 64) took drugs at least once. Approximately 60 million people used opioids. In 2021, over 39.5 million people were living with drug use disorders. The majority of opioid addicts utilised illicitly farmed and manufactured heroin, although the proportion of individuals who used prescription opioids is increasing.

Fentanyl Overdose

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most commonly used medicines in overdose deaths. Even in modest quantities, it can be fatal. Every day, more than 150 people die from synthetic drug overdoses, including fentanyl.

Drugs may include lethal doses of fentanyl, which you cannot see, taste, or smell. It is nearly impossible to know if your medicines have been tainted with fentanyl unless you use fentanyl test strips. Test strips are affordable and usually provide findings within 5 minutes, which might be the difference between life and death. Even if the test is negative, exercise care because test strips may not identify more strong fentanyl-like substances, such as carfentanil.

Signs of Overdose

Recognising the symptoms of opioid overdose can save someone's life. Here are some items to look for:

  • Small, constrictive "pinpoint pupils"
  • Falling asleep or losing consciousness.
  • Slow, weak, or no breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Symptoms may include a limp body and cold, clammy skin.
  • Discoloured skin (particularly in the lips and nails)

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