The Rise of Fentanyl in Illicit Drugs: A Growing Crisis

Parents discussing fentanyl with teenage son

The opioid crisis has taken a devastating toll on communities worldwide, and a new, more lethal chapter is unfolding with the increasing presence of fentanyl in illicit drugs. This potent synthetic opioid, originally developed for pain management in medical settings, is now a common additive in many illegal substances, leading to a surge in overdoses and fatalities. But why are more drugs containing fentanyl? Understanding the factors behind this alarming trend is crucial for addressing the crisis and protecting public health.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and about 50 times stronger than heroin. While it can be helpful in managing severe pain, particularly in cancer patients, its potency can make it extremely dangerous. Even a small amount can be fatal, which is why its presence in the illicit drug market is so concerning. Here in Pennsylvania, there was a 65 percent increase in drug-related overdose deaths between 2015 and 2017 from fentanyl. 

Why is Fentanyl Being Added to Illicit Drugs?

The reasons why fentanyl is being added to more illicit substances include:

Economic Incentives for Drug Traffickers

Fentanyl is relatively cheap to produce compared to other opioids like heroin. Synthetic production in laboratories is more economical than growing and harvesting poppy plants for heroin. Because of its potency, small quantities of fentanyl can be mixed with other substances to create a large supply of product, significantly increasing profits for traffickers.

Enhanced Potency

Adding fentanyl to other drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine enhances their potency, providing a stronger high. This can lead to increased demand among users seeking more intense effects. The heightened potency of fentanyl-laced drugs can also accelerate the cycle of addiction, creating a more consistent and dependent customer base for traffickers.

Easier Smuggling

Due to its high potency, fentanyl can be transported in smaller quantities, making it easier to smuggle and less likely to be detected by law enforcement. This logistical advantage is appealing to drug trafficking organizations.

The Dangers of Fentanyl-Laced Drugs

Unless a person specifically tests for fentanyl, it’s virtually impossible to know if it’s in a substance. Let’s look closer at the risks of fentanyl-laced drugs.

Increased Overdose Risk

The extreme potency of fentanyl means that even a slight miscalculation in dosage can result in a fatal overdose. Users often do not know that their drugs contain fentanyl, leading to unintentional overdoses. Fentanyl acts quickly on the body's opioid receptors, and its effects can overwhelm the respiratory system, leading to rapid respiratory depression and death.

Compounding the Opioid Crisis

The presence of fentanyl in the drug supply has contributed to a dramatic increase in overdose deaths. According to the CDC, synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, are a primary factor in overdose deaths, increasing them by 55.6 percent in a 12-month period. Additionally, the surge in overdoses places immense pressure on emergency services, healthcare providers and public health systems, which are already stretched thin by the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Treating Fentanyl Addiction in Easton, PA

The rise of fentanyl in the illicit drug market represents a significant and deadly escalation in the opioid crisis. Economic incentives for traffickers, the desire for more potent highs and logistical advantages all contribute to its widespread use. Addressing this crisis requires a multifaceted approach, including education, stronger enforcement, harm reduction strategies and expanded access to treatment. 

Treating a fentanyl addiction involves a combination of medications—methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone—behavioral therapies, counseling, support groups, holistic therapies, family and social support and aftercare. Recovery Cove is here to support you when you need it. No matter how far a fentanyl addiction has gone, it’s important to know that help is available. Contact us today at 484-549-COVE to start your recovery from fentanyl.