What is Fentanyl Made Of?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning it’s human-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 abuse of this drug has caused around the country. 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 create 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 people remain 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 looking at analogs of similar drugs, and the use of fentanyl led to the creation of fentanyl citrate, which combines fentanyl and citric acid.

It 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.

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. The patches slowly release fentanyl into the skin and then the bloodstream over a period of 48 to 72 hours.
  • Sublingual: 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.
  • Lozenges: 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. This is also a fast-acting way to administer fentanyl, and around 25% of the drug is absorbed through the oral mucosa.
  • Intravenous: 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 synthesized originally 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 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 is 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.