Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It comes in two forms - prescription and illegally-made. Illegally-Made fentanyl (IMF) is driving much of the increase in overdoses seen in Minnesota and across the county in recent years. The content on this page refers to illegally-made Fentanyl.
Why is fentanyl so dangerous?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, Fentanyl is the primary reason that opioid overdoses are increasing. Due to its strength, only a very small amount, just a few grains, can be deadly. Many people who inject fentanyl are injecting more often than when they were using heroin. This gives a person a higher chance of getting an infection such as HIV or Hepatitis C.
Fentanyl is widely available and often added to other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Fentanyl is added to other substances so that companies make more money. This can harm consumers who might not be aware of the presence of Fentanyl. Oftentimes, people who use drugs may not be aware that fentanyl is in the substances they are using. Fentanyl can be identified by lab texts or by the public using fentanyl test strips (PDF) which are available to the public in Minnesota.
Naloxone can be used to reverse an overdose caused by fentanyl, but many doses may be needed.
What forms does fentanyl come in?
IMF is sold through illicit drug markets in both liquid and powder forms. It looks like a white powder. Because it is cheap and potent, it is added to heroin or sold disguised as heroin. IMF can also come in liquid form, and might be sold as nasal sprays, eye drops or small candies.
Fentanyl is also often found in counterfeit pressed pills made to look like oxycodone (M30s), Xanax, and other prescription pills. These fake pills may contain a deadly amount of fentanyl. It is challenging to correctly identify if a pill was prescribed by a trusted medical professional and dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. The pills can look exactly the same!
Fentanyl can also be found combined with other drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine. This can be done on purpose or by accident. This is particularly dangerous for a person who uses stimulants such as methamphetamine or cocaine. People who do not regularly consume opioid have a higher chance of an overdose when they first consume an opioid.
Opioid such as fentanyl and similar substances (some that are stronger than fentanyl, some which are weaker) will respond to naloxone if someone is overdosing. Here are a few reasons why a person experiencing an overdose might not be responding to naloxone:
- The naloxone needs more time to take effect (wait 2-3 minutes before repeating the process to administer more naloxone)
- They need more than one dose of naloxone (wait 2-3 minutes between doses)
- The naloxone was given after the person had been without oxygen for too long (National Harm Reduction Coalition).
Locate the nearest naloxone dispenser:
- Naloxone Finder - Know the Dangers
- Naloxone Prescribing and Dispensing - Minnesota Department of Health (state.mn.us)
Fentanyl Test Strips
Fentanyl test strips (FTS) can identify the presence of fentanyl in drug samples before use. FTS are a reliable way of giving people with more information that can lower the risk of an overdose. As of July 2021, FTS are legal for all Minnesota residents to carry and use.
For more information on fentanyl test strips, visit:
To access Fentanyl test strips, contact:
- Fentanyl Test Strips. | Steve Rummler HOPE Network
- Rainbow Health SSP
- North Point Health and Wellness SSP
For more data on fentanyl and its impacts on overdoses in Minnesota, visit the Opioid Dashboard.