If someone is worried that heroin or another drug is laced with fentanyl, as a way to identify it, they might question what fentanyl looks, smells, and tastes like.

Fentanyl is not a new drug. It was introduced in 1959, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that abuse of the drug started to increase. In recent years, it’s becoming more common to see other illicit drugs, like heroin, be cut or laced with fentanyl.

If someone is concerned they’ve inadvertently bought heroin or another drug that’s been mixed with fentanyl, they might wonder if there’s a way to identify fentanyl by look, taste, or smell.

Unfortunately, many forms of illicit fentanyl don’t necessarily have a specific taste, color or odor, which makes it extremely difficult to identify whether or not you’re taking it. Fortunately, however, there are fentanyl test strips that can help users identify fentanyl.

Here is some additional information about Fentanyl, including what it is, how it’s taken, and ways to identify it.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an opioid drug available by prescription and frequently used in hospital settings to help people with chronic pain, usually from cancer or other terminal conditions. However, there are other uses for fentanyl, like post-operative pain relief. When used to treat chronic pain, it is usually prescribed as an additional medication to someone already taking opiates, like morphine, around the clock. Fentanyl is used to help deal with breakthrough pain that the other medication does not cover.In most instances, it’s intended for people who are opioid-tolerant. It can also be used for certain surgeries and procedures as part of anesthesia as well.

Because of its potency, which is up to 100 times the strength of morphine, there are strict guidelines stating why and to whom fentanyl can be prescribed. The strict guidelines exist because there is a significant potential for abuse and, because of its potency, for overdose.

While fentanyl is approved for prescription purposes, it is often manufactured illegally and sold on the black market. Not only is fentanyl sold on its own, but it’s being mixed with other drugs like heroin and Xanax. People may not know they’re buying something cut with fentanyl, and this can increase the risk of overdose and death.

Mixing fentanyl with other drugs has contributed to the spike in the number of opiate overdose cases in recent years.

What Does Fentanyl Taste Like?

Unfortunately, most sources claim that there is no guaranteed way to identify fentanyl by taste, as it can taste radically different depending on the type of fentanyl and what it’s mixed with. Some users in a 2016 study claimed the ability to identify fentanyl-laced heroin by taste, claiming that fentanyl tastes sweet, while heroin is very bitter. However, this evidence is anecdotal and is not a reliable way to truly know what fentanyl tastes like.

What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

As already mentioned, many forms of illicit fentanyl don’t have a specific characteristic like color, taste or odor to help you confirm it’s the drug. In general, fentanyl is white in appearence, but when it’s illicitly sold, it may be off-white or tan. In some cases, it can also be a brown color.

It’s challenging to determine the unique characteristics of fentanyl in most situations, other than by looking at its chemical makeup, which is one reason why it’s so dangerous for people when they buy heroin and other drugs laced with it. In some cases, heroin may have a more yellow tint to it on its own, and it may look more white if it’s laced with fentanyl, but this may not always be a reliable distinguishing feature.

What Does Fentanyl Smell Like?

Similar to taste, the unfortunate truth is that fentanyl tends not to have a unique smell, making it difficult to determine if a drug has been laced.

Fentanyl Test Strips

Fortunately, there are various initiatives that are making fentanyl test strips available and affordable to the public. Fentanyl test strips are small strips of paper that can help detect the presence of fentanyl in any drug batch, which can be lifesaving.

How Is Fentanyl Taken?

When someone is prescribed fentanyl, there are several ways the drug can be administered. One of the most common ways is the transdermal patch, which contains fentanyl in a gel. The patch goes directly on the skin, and then the skin absorbs a certain amount before it’s released into the bloodstream. With the patch, the medicine is controlled in terms of how much a person gets, and the effects last for several days.

The other ways fentanyl can be prescribed include a tablet that dissolves and is absorbed by the oral mucous membranes, or as a lollipop or lozenge. In a hospital setting, it can also be given intravenously.

As far as abusing fentanyl, it is taken in many of the same ways as heroin. It can be injected, snorted, smoked or the patches can even be chewed or eaten. The effects of the drug occur extremely fast because fentanyl crosses the blood-brain barrier much quicker than morphine or other opiates.

Find the Help You Need

If you’re worried that the drugs you or a loved one are using are laced with fentanyl, it may be time to take the next step and seek out treatment, and The Recovery Village is here to help. Our nationwide facilities provide high-quality, evidence-based care to those who need it most. Reach out to us and take the first step toward healing. Intake coordinators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call.

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Editor – Jennifer Kopf
Jennifer Kopf is a Florida-based writer who likes to balance creative writing with helpful and informative pieces. Her passion for helping people has translated into writing about the importance of treatment for substance use and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Patrick Moser, MSN, FNP
Patrick is a nationally-certified Family Nurse Practitioner who primarily works with adult patients with mental health conditions or problems with addiction. Read more

Ciccarone, Daniel et al. “Heroin uncertainties: Exploring users’[…]ituted ‘heroin’.” The International journal on drug policy, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2021.

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.