Both fentanyl and heroin use are significant problems in the United States and they’re a big component of what’s being dubbed the opioid epidemic in this country. People are becoming addicted to these drugs and many are dying as a result.

What Are Heroin and Fentanyl?

Of the two drugs, fentanyl is more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is a prescription opioid painkiller that’s typically reserved for end-of-life pain management, and chronic pain associated with cancer in people who are already receiving other around-the-clock pain medicines. Heroin on the other hand, which is also an opioid and is derived from morphine, is an illegal drug with no medical uses that creates a similar sense of euphoria when the user first begins taking it.

Both fentanyl and heroin are fast-acting, but the person who uses them also builds tolerance quickly, meaning they have to take continuously larger doses to achieve the same euphoric high they did initially.

Along with both being opioids and having similar effects, heroin and fentanyl have other relationships. Namely, heroin mixed with fentanyl is increasingly seen on the streets, and it’s thought to be a big contributor to the spike in drug-related deaths.

Fentanyl was first introduced in 1959 to treat terminally ill patients, but by the 1980s there had been alterations made to the chemical structure of fentanyl which led to the toxic product that’s often referred to as “China White.”

Fentanyl-Laced Heroin

You may already know that heroin overdoses and deaths are on the rise around the country, but that only tells part of the story. Many users are buying a variation of heroin that they’re not even aware of, which is a combination of heroin mixed with fentanyl. Fentanyl is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine, and the combination of heroin and fentanyl is incredibly dangerous.

There’s a reason heroin mixed with fentanyl is more common on the black market. It’s because fentanyl is cheaper than heroin and more potent, so when it’s mixed with heroin, manufacturers can get more profitability from a batch.

What people don’t realize is the fact that when these two drugs are mixed together their potency is amplified. This combination is incredibly dangerous considering how potent both already are.

The high might be powerful, but so are the side effects and the risk of overdose.

Heroin and fentanyl both act as depressants, which means they create drowsiness, sedation and respiratory depression. When someone takes too much of either substance, they can experience so much respiratory depression that they slip into a coma or die. This risk is amplified when heroin is mixed with fentanyl.

A few facts to know about heroin mixed with fentanyl:

  • When someone injects heroin mixed with fentanyl, they can die within a matter of minutes. With heroin, there may be signs of an overdose before someone is unconscious, but this doesn’t always happen when fentanyl is involved.
  • It’s common to see someone experiencing multiple overdoses in a 24-hour period
  • It’s hard to know if heroin is mixed with fentanyl

The only way that may help people identify if heroin is mixed with fentanyl is by looking at the color. Heroin tends to be yellow, while fentanyl is white.

Other Drugs Mixed with Fentanyl

What’s important to realize is that it’s not just heroin mixed with fentanyl that’s a problem. Authorities are warning the public that many other drugs are being laced with fentanyl as well, including MDMA, ecstasy, cocaine, and oxycodone.

Fentanyl is so strong that it’s measured in micrograms instead of milligrams, so when even a tiny amount is mixed with heroin or another drug, and someone is unaware of it, there’s a high risk for overdose.

Some people may seek out heroin mixed with fentanyl because they want the strongest drugs possible. So while many people are taking the fentanyl unintentionally, there are others who prefer it.

Public health officials predict as a result of heroin being mixed with fentanyl and other drugs being laced with fentanyl becoming increasingly common, there are likely to be even more overdoses and deaths that occur.

If you or a loved one live with addiction, now’s the time to seek help. At The Recovery Village, patients receive individualized treatment that caters to their specific needs and addresses addiction alongside any co-occurring disorders. A healthier future is within reach. Call today.

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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 – Christina Caplinger, RPh
Christina Caplinger is a licensed pharmacist in both Colorado and Idaho and is also a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist. Read more
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.