Fentanyl is a prescription opioid painkiller that is chemically related to other addictive prescription painkillers, like hydrocodone and methadone. In a hospital setting, this narcotic is used to rapidly treat severe pain in people who are tolerant to other opioids. Fentanyl is so potent that doctors often reserve it for patients who have terminal cancer and most surgical patients.

Though this drug has medical uses, a euphoric fentanyl high can occur if a person takes too much of it. Thus, it is no surprise that fentanyl has been sold illicitly for decades. Today, fentanyl is often substituted for heroin — and it is just as dangerous as the notorious street drug.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid prescribed to relieve chronic pain related to terminal cancer or severe pain. Available as a transdermal patch and in oral and injectable formulations, fentanyl is easy to use. In 2015, approximately 9,580 Americans died from drug overdoses involving fentanyl. Though most of those people resided in the Northeastern United States, fentanyl overdose deaths were reported from all across the country, many of which were preceded by fentanyl addiction.

Learn more about commonly abused opioids.

Codeine | Fentanyl | Hydrocodone | Morphine | Oxycodone | Percocet

What Is Fentanyl?

To fully understand the depths of fentanyl addiction, it’s important to first address the question, “What is fentanyl?” Fentanyl is a narcotic painkiller that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Due to the drug’s potency and addictive qualities, doctors reserve fentanyl prescriptions for the most severe situations. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies fentanyl as a Schedule II controlled substance, which means that it, “…has a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Fentanyl is considered a dangerous drug, alongside other Schedule II substances such as cocainemethamphetamineVicodinAdderall, and OxyContin. A fentanyl high mimics that of most other painkillers, rendering the user euphoric and numb — mentally and physically.

History of Fentanyl Addiction

Fentanyl was first introduced to the United States in the 1960s as an injectable anesthetic branded as Sublimaze. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 labeled fentanyl a Schedule II drug, due to its addictive qualities. As the 1970s progressed, illicit versions of fentanyl began showing up on the market, increasing the chances of fentanyl addiction. By the early 1990s, the patch was available for transdermal use. However, the drug did not become widely known for another two decades.

When music superstar Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in 2016, the drug was still relatively unknown among Americans. Meanwhile, fentanyl addiction and abuse had quietly grown more common in the years prior to Prince’s death, spiking between 2014 and 2015. During this time, the death rate of non-methadone synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased by over 70%.

Common Forms of Fentanyl

Most often, doctors administer Fentanyl as a patch that adheres to the skin, a lozenge known as a “fentanyl lollipop,” or as an injection. However, illicit forms of the drug are not as distinctive.

On the streets, fentanyl and its illicit variations may appear as a powder, which can be melted into a liquid and administered like a heroin injection.

Fentanyl Brand Names

Legally manufactured fentanyl is sold by pharmaceutical companies under the following brand names and formulations:

Common Fentanyl Street Names

Non-pharmaceutical versions of fentanyl exist on the market, complete with slang terms. Common adulterations involve the addition of heroin or cocaine to fentanyl. Illicit fentanyl is often found as a powder or attached to blotter paper. Here are some common street names for fentanyl or fentanyl-laced heroin:

  • Apache
  • Cash
  • China Girl
  • China Town
  • China White
  • Dance Fever
  • Friend
  • Goodfella
  • Great Bear
  • Jackpot
  • Murder 8
  • Tango
  • TNT

Related Topic: Street Names for Drugs

Is Fentanyl Addictive?

“Is fentanyl addictive?” is a commonly asked question regarding this substance, in addition to “What is fentanyl?”. Like other opioids, fentanyl is highly addictive. Therefore, fentanyl addiction can develop easily if this drug is not used as it is prescribed. Since fentanyl impacts the brain’s reward centers, like heroin does, it’s hard to stop using this drug once you have started. This also means that substance abuse treatment methods used to treat heroin addiction, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can also be used to treat fentanyl addiction.

Fentanyl is most dangerous when it is crushed then snorted or injected, and when it is combined with other drugs — including alcohol. However, even with medical supervision, fentanyl addiction and dependency can develop.

It does not take long for a fentanyl addiction to develop. For some people, mental fentanyl addiction can begin upon their first use of the drug. Due to its potency, physical dependency and fentanyl addiction can occur after a person has used the drug just a couple of times.

Fentanyl Addiction Statistics & Stories

Fentanyl and other opioids account for the greatest proportion of 21st-century prescription drug addictions in the United States. Fentanyl deaths skyrocketed between 2014 and 2015. From January 24 to February 4, 2014, in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, region, 17 deaths were linked to fentanyl-laced heroin. In early 2016, statistics showed that 9,580 Americans had died the previous year due to fentanyl abuse.

Fentanyl Addiction Stories:

Hollywood insiders have reported that fentanyl lollipops are sometimes freely available at posh parties in Los Angeles. In 2016, pop superstar Prince died at age 57 from a fentanyl overdose. Throughout the years leading up to his death, Prince had been spotted sucking on lollipops in public — some speculate that the candies contained fentanyl. Celebrities are not the only ones to use fentanyl to get high. When Canadian resident Michael Morton was a teenager, he stole some fentanyl patches from the pharmacy where he worked.

From the first time he used them, he was hooked. He told Canadian magazine Maclean’s, “I fell back in my seat and I fell in love. It was the best high I ever had.” He quickly developed a fentanyl addiction. Within a year, he was abusing fentanyl multiple times per day. But when four of his friends died from overdoses, he sought professional fentanyl addiction treatment. Today, he receives regular methadone treatment to help manage his disease. Treatment saved Michael’s life. If you are suffering from fentanyl addiction, treatment can help you too. Take the first step towards life after addiction by getting in touch with The Recovery Village.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.