Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is extremely powerful, as it is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Due to this, even small amounts of fentanyl can result in a drug overdose death. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids account for the majority of recent overdoses, as fentanyl laced drugs are commonly becoming ingested unintentionally.
With fentanyl, what constitutes a lethal dose of the drug is a tiny amount, so fentanyl overdoses can happen even if not a lot is ingested. The amount of fentanyl can also vary between each counterfeit pill, so it’s impossible to be certain of how much fentanyl is being taken at a time.
The amount of fentanyl that it would take to kill somebody varies based on a few factors, such as whether the person is a new user or someone who has not taken opioids recently. In a user without opioid tolerance, it would only take about 400 micrograms of fentanyl to put the person at an extreme risk of an overdose death, and 2000 micrograms of the drug will lead to certain death.
This means that any amount between these two numbers will be likely to result in death for the user. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl falls within the range of 500 to 2000 micrograms, so buying street drugs that may be laced with fentanyl is highly likely to lead to an overdose death. Even in users who regularly take opioids, 2000 micrograms of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose, although they may be able to withstand amounts up to 1000 micrograms.
According to Harm Reduction Ohio, the traditional size of a batch of heroin is 100,000 micrograms, or .10 of a gram. This means that even a minuscule amount of fentanyl being present in the drug is enough to cause overdose, which is why fentanyl has been attributed to leading the increase in overdose deaths.
Fentanyl is almost impossible to detect with simply the human eye, as it is made to look identical to the drug dealers are attempting to pass it off as. Powdered fentanyl looks just like cocaine or pure white heroin, while fake pills made of fentanyl are incredibly similar in looks to MDMA pills or prescription drugs such as oxycodone.
The difficulty of detecting fentanyl within drugs also increases the danger of this drug, as users may ingest it unintentionally. The only way to be certain of whether fentanyl is in a batch of street drugs is to test the batch with fentanyl test strips. Even if someone is buying fentanyl intentionally, as opposed to accidentally buying fentanyl-laced drugs, the rate of overdose deaths associated with consuming fentanyl is still incredibly high.
Drugs with fentanyl mixed in also present other dangers. A batch of illicit drugs has a wide variety of doses since it is not mixed in a pharmaceutical lab. Even within the same batch, the mixture can have an inconsistent potency. Drugs that are laced with fentanyl may have what is known as a fentanyl hot spot, which is where part of the batch has an unexpectedly higher amount of fentanyl present.
Hot spots within street drugs are undetectable, and even using a fentanyl test kit may not provide accurate information. This is because unless the entire batch is tested, it is impossible to detect a hot spot in the batch by testing simply a portion of it. Hot spots within laced drugs are unavoidable due to the nature of mixing fentanyl into other drugs.
When fentanyl is added to a mixture, clumps of the drug will remain no matter how much the batch has been cut or shaken. Since people involved in drug trafficking are not focused on the safety of others, they do not care whether these hot spots exist in a batch of drugs. The only way to avoid a fentanyl overdose is to avoid street drugs altogether, as it is impossible to know whether a dose of another drug contains a lethal amount of fentanyl.