Medical Vs. Street Fentanyl

I recently had a minor procedure. As I was waking up from surgery, I heard the nurses talking. One nurse says to the other, “We gave her fentanyl.”  In my still very asleep and barely-aware-state I distinctly remember thrashing my whole head back and forth and grunting what was intended to be me declining the drug…. that I had already received. While my mind fully understood the difference between medical grade and illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), my grieving heart could did not want to be given the very drug that took my sons life.

The process of unraveling the difference between the street drug and the one that I was given in the hospital was very important for me and a conversation that I believe is important for a lot of you. This quick read addresses the differences between medical grade and illicit fentanyl.

IMF refers to fentanyl that is produced and distributed outside legal and medical channels for non-medical purposes. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid, and its illegal production and distribution have been associated with various health and public safety risks, particularly contributing to the opioid crisis in several countries.

Key points about illicitly manufactured fentanyl include:

  1. Potency: Fentanyl is significantly more potent than other opioids like morphine or heroin. Even small amounts of fentanyl can cause a powerful and potentially lethal effect. This high potency increases the risk of overdose, especially when individuals are unaware that the drugs they are consuming contain fentanyl.
  2. Illicit Production: Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is often produced in clandestine laboratories, and it may be mixed with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. In some cases, individuals may be exposed to fentanyl without their knowledge, leading to unintended and dangerous consequences.
  3. Risk of Overdose: The use of illicitly manufactured fentanyl has been a major factor in the sharp increase in opioid-related overdoses. Because of its potency, individuals who use drugs containing fentanyl are at a higher risk of overdose, respiratory depression, and death.
  4. Global Impact: Illicitly manufactured fentanyl has been a global concern, with reports of its involvement in drug markets in various regions. Law enforcement agencies work to combat the production and distribution of these substances, but the clandestine nature of the operations poses challenges.
  5. Public Health Response: Public health initiatives and harm reduction strategies aim to address the opioid crisis associated with fentanyl. This includes efforts to increase awareness, expand access to naloxone (commonly known as Narcan), and provide support for individuals struggling with opioid use disorders.
  6. Legitimate Medical Use vs. Illicit Production: It’s important to distinguish between the legitimate medical use of fentanyl under proper medical supervision and the illicit production and distribution of the drug. Medically prescribed fentanyl can be a valuable tool for managing severe pain, especially in cases where other opioids may not be effective.

Efforts to address the challenges posed by illicitly manufactured fentanyl involve a combination of law enforcement, public health interventions, and international collaboration to control the production and trafficking of these substances and reduce the associated harms.