What is Fentanyl Made Of?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning it’s man-made, and this drug along with its analogs are among the most potent available.

Before the death of Prince, fentanyl was relatively unknown, despite the devastation that the abuse of this drug has caused nationwide. Fentanyl is a prescription drug that was linked to the death of Prince, but it’s also responsible for many of the other overdose deaths that have been on the rise throughout the U.S. in the past decade.

Fentanyl is an opioid intended only for the pain that often occurs at the end of a person’s life, such as for someone with cancer, or in certain circumstances for surgical procedures, yet it has flooded the black market and created a tremendous problem.

It’s important to spread information and awareness about this drug and answer questions such as “What is fentanyl made of?” because many people are unaware of how dangerous and deadly it can be.

What is Fentanyl Made Of?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid medication first made by Paul Janssen in 1959. The structure of fentanyl was created by studying analogs of similar drugs, and the use of fentanyl led to the creation of fentanyl citrate, which combines fentanyl and citric acid.

Fentanyl is an opioid, so it binds to opioid receptors in the nervous system, but it is thought to be up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is available in several different forms, some of the most common of which include:

  • Transdermal patches: One of the most common ways fentanyl is administered is by transdermal patch, which is essentially a patch that goes directly on the skin and includes fentanyl in a gel form. A common brand name of these patches is Duragesic. The patches slowly release fentanyl into the skin and then the bloodstream over a period of 48 to 72 hours.
  • Buccal tablets: Fentanyl buccal tablets are typically effervescent. One brand name of these tablets is Fentora.
  • Sublingual tablets: Sublingual fentanyl is given as a dissolvable film that’s placed under the tongue, and it is absorbed through the sublingual mucosa to begin working quickly. A brand name of these sublingual tablets is Abstral. Sublingual sprays (Subsys) are also available.
  • Nasal sprays: One brand-name, nasal spray form of fentanyl is called Lazanda.
  • Lozenges and lollipops: Fentanyl lozenges are similar in their makeup to the lollipop versions of fentanyl, and they are for opioid-tolerant individuals, particularly for the treatment of breakthrough cancer pain, and in some cases for pain not related to cancer. One brand name of fentanyl lollipops is Actiq. This is also a fast-acting way to administer fentanyl, and around 25 percent of the drug is absorbed through the oral mucosa.
  • Intravenous liquid (injectable formulations): Fentanyl, when used for anesthesia and analgesia, can be given intravenously, usually in combination with a benzodiazepine for various surgeries and procedures. It can sometimes be given as part of spinal anesthesia or epidural anesthesia.
So what is fentanyl made of? Essentially, chemicals.

The chemical name for fentanyl is N-phenyl-N propenamide. It was originally synthesized following a four-step process that included condensing N-benzyl-4-piperidone and reducing it with LAH, and the final step included performing the Finkelstein reaction.

While fentanyl is synthetic, it is synthesized from the opium poppy, which is why opioids all have similar effects and characteristics.

There are a lot of risks with fentanyl, and one of the biggest is the fact that when people attempt to purchase it for illicit use, there is a lot of uncertainty. For example, illegally manufactured fentanyl is becoming a tremendous problem.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there was a 426 percent increase in fentanyl products seized from 2013 to 2014. Other reports show that the number of deaths involving synthetic opioids including fentanyl rose 79 percent during that same time period. Officials believe the spikes in overdoses are stemming from illegally manufactured fentanyl.

One of the reasons why is that fentanyl is more potent and cheaper than heroin, so illegal manufacturers can make a lot more doses from a batch, and make more profit as a result. This happened with Prince. He took fentanyl, but the pills were identified through labeling as hydrocodone.

Something else that’s triggering so many overdose deaths is the fact that illegally manufactured fentanyl is being mixed with other illicit drugs like heroin, and people may not even realize it when they take it. Fentanyl is much more potent, and a much smaller amount can lead to an overdose very quickly.

It’s important to be aware not just of what fentanyl is made of, but the potential for drugs purchased illegally to contain it and the risks that can come with this.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse (2017 Edition).” A DEA Resource Guide: 2017 EDITION, published 2017. Accessed January 2019.

  1. Matthew Gladden, PhD, et. al. “Fentanyl Law Enforcement Submissions and Increases in Synthetic Opioid–Involved Overdose Deaths — 27 States, 2013–2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 26, 2016. Accessed January 2019.