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The Rising Crisis of Drugs Laced with Fentanyl

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

July 8, 2024 (Originally Published)

July 8, 2024 (Last Updated)

Table of Contents

The ongoing crisis of drugs laced with fentanyl is a major concern for communities throughout the United States. These powerful substances are causing more overdoses and making it harder to stay safe.

Read on to learn what drugs are being laced with fentanyl and discover how to get effective opioid addiction treatment.

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Need help getting addiction treatment?

For fentanyl overdose and emergency rehab admission, call 866.330.9449.

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an opioid that is similar to morphine but much more powerful. Opioids are a group of drugs that come from the opium poppy plant. Natural opioids like morphine and codeine are called opiates. Opioids can also be synthetic (fentanyl) or semi-synthetic (heroin).

Fentanyl is used to help people with severe pain, like after surgery, or for those who have long-lasting pain that other medications can’t help. There are two types of fentanyl:

  1. Prescription fentanyl: Doctors prescribe fentanyl in different forms, like patches that stick to your skin, lozenges you suck on like candy, or shots. Prescription fentanyl is marketed as Sublimaze, Duragesic, and Actiq.
  2. Illegal fentanyl: Illicit fentanyl is made in labs and sold on the streets. This form can be found as a powder, on small pieces of paper, in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made to look like other pills. Illegal fentanyl is highly dangerous and often involved in overdoses.

Fentanyl is one of the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the U.S. because it is so strong and dangerous when used illegally. When fentanyl is mixed with other drugs, the risks increase.

Fentanyl-Laced Drug Statistics & Facts

Fentanyl is dangerous on its own, but this potent synthetic opioid is increasingly found in other illegal drugs, leading to an increase in overdose deaths. Here are some quick facts concerning fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs.

Massive seizures of fentanyl

In 2023, the DEA reported seizing 80 million fake pills containing fentanyl and almost 12,000 pounds of raw fentanyl powder. This amounts to more than 380 million lethal doses of the drug.

Fentanyl mixed with xylazine

DEA reports a sharp increase in fentanyl mixed with xylazine, a powerful sedative used for animals. Xylazine-laced fentanyl is known as tranq. Tranq is found in 48 of 50 U.S. states. 7% of fentanyl pills and 23% of fentanyl powder seized in the United States in 2022 contained xylazine. This mix is especially deadly because xylazine is not an opioid, and its effects cannot be reversed with Narcan (naloxone), a common treatment for opioid overdose.

Overdose deaths: alarming but decreasing

Data from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) show that 107,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2023. While this number is alarming, it’s also the first time since 2018 that drug overdose rates have decreased, down from over 111,000. Among these deaths, 81,000 involved opioids, and a staggering 74,000 deaths involved fentanyl.

Dangers of polysubstance abuse

Fentanyl is increasingly found in drugs like heroin, meth, and cocaine. This increases the risk of overdose because people often don’t know their drugs are laced with fentanyl. The combination of fentanyl with stimulants like cocaine and meth has contributed to a fourth wave of the U.S. opioid epidemic. In Connecticut, for example, the number of deaths involving cocaine and fentanyl together increased by 420% in the past three years.

Efforts to combat the crisis

DEA and other agencies are working hard to stop the spread of fentanyl. In 2023, Operation Artemis led to over 900 seizures, including 13,000 pounds of fentanyl precursor chemicals and 270 pounds of fentanyl pills and powder. ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) declared fentanyl mixed with xylazine an emergency threat and released a National Response Plan to address this crisis.

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Why Are Drugs Laced with Fentanyl?

Drugs are often laced with fentanyl for several reasons, making them more dangerous and potent. One common reason is to bulk up the product and increase profits. For example, dealers mix fentanyl with heroin to make the heroin stronger. Because fentanyl is cheaper to produce, it allows them to sell less heroin for more money.

Another reason is to increase the potency of the drug. Fentanyl is much stronger than other opioids, so adding it to counterfeit painkillers or heroin makes the drugs more powerful. This increased potency can make people feel a stronger high, but it also greatly increases the risk of overdose.

The addition of fentanyl to these drugs creates a potentially dangerous situation. People often don’t know the drugs are laced with fentanyl, which can lead to accidental overdoses and death. This growing practice is a major factor in the rising number of drug-related emergencies and fatalities. Raising awareness about this issue can help keep communities safer.

What Drugs Are Being Laced with Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is being mixed into many different drugs, making them much more dangerous. Here is a closer look at what drugs are laced with fentanyl and why this is so risky.

  • Heroin: Heroin is one of the most common drugs laced with fentanyl. Dealers mix fentanyl with heroin to make it more potent and cheaper to produce. This means people might get a much stronger dose than they expect, leading to a higher risk of overdose. Because fentanyl is so powerful, even a small amount can be deadly.
  • Cocaine and meth: Cocaine and meth are also being laced with fentanyl. This practice has contributed to the fourth wave of the opioid crisis. Those who use stimulant drugs are not typically expecting an opioid, so they are at a high risk of overdose when they unknowingly consume fentanyl. This makes cocaine and meth far more dangerous.
  • Pressed pills: Illicit opioid painkillers like fake oxycodone pills are frequently made with fentanyl. These counterfeit pills look like real prescription medications but can contain lethal doses of fentanyl. People who think they are taking a regular painkiller may accidentally consume a deadly amount of fentanyl.
  • Xylazine: Xylazine mixed with fentanyl is known as tranq or tranq dope. This combination can cause severe health problems, including respiratory issues and an increased risk of overdose. Xylazine is not meant for human use and mixing it with fentanyl makes it extremely hazardous.

There have been myths about marijuana being laced with fentanyl, but these are unfounded. It is challenging to mix a powder like fentanyl with marijuana leaves. While there have been a few reports, they are rare and anecdotal.

If you or a loved one is using fentanyl, call 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance.

Drugs Laced with Fentanyl | FAQS

How can I tell if a drug is laced with fentanyl?

It’s hard to tell if a drug is laced with fentanyl just by looking. You can use test strips to check for fentanyl.

What do I do if a drug is laced with fentanyl?

If you think a drug is laced with fentanyl, don’t use it, and tell others not to use it. Get help from a medical professional right away.

Does fentanyl cause overdoses?

Yes, fentanyl can cause overdoses because it is so strong. Even a tiny amount can be dangerous.

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Get Treatment for Fentanyl Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

We treat all types of addiction, including fentanyl addiction, at Renaissance Recovery in California and Florida.

If you’re dependent on opioids, we can help you find detox centers across the state. After about one week of fentanyl withdrawal, you’ll be ready to move into ongoing treatment at Renaissance. The outpatient nature of treatment lets you continue at home, work, or school while attending weekday therapy sessions at our rehab by the beach.

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Start fentanyl addiction treatment today at 866.330.9449.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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