Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. There are two types of fentanyl:
- Pharmaceutical fentanyl is primarily prescribed to manage severe pain, such as with cancer and end-of-life palliative care.
- Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is frequently referred to as illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF). IMF is often mixed with heroin and/or cocaine or pressed into counterfeit pills—with or without the user’s knowledge.
Like morphine, it is a medicine that is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery and in cases of extreme injury.2 It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.3 Tolerance occurs when you need a higher and/or more frequent amount of a drug to get the desired effects.
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.3,4 Street names for illegally used fentanyl include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Jackpot, Murder 8, and Tango & Cash.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, 59.5 percent of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 14.3 percent in 2010.
- Nelson L, Schwaner R. Transdermal fentanyl: Pharmacology and toxicology. J Med Toxicol.2009;5(4):230-241. doi:10.1007/BF03178274
- Garnock-Jones KP. Fentanyl Buccal Soluble Film: A Review in Breakthrough Cancer Pain. Clin Drug Investig.2016;36(5):413-419. doi:10.1007/s40261-016-0394-y
- Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section, Office of Diversion Control, Drug Enforcement Administration. Fentanyl Fact Sheet. March 2015. http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/fentanyl.pdf.
- on. Acetyl fentanyl Fact Sheet. July 2015. http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/acetylfentanyl.pdf.