Examining where fentanyl comes from and how it gets into the United States is the key to understanding how fentanyl affects so many lives across the country.

Fentanyl is one of the deadliest opioids in the world. Sadly it’s risen in popularity as the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives throughout the United States. Each year, thousands of Americans overdose and die from using fentanyl. Many times people are unaware that the substance they’re consuming is spiked with fentanyl.

Many people are curious about how fentanyl became so widespread since it’s such a deadly drug. Examining where fentanyl comes from and how it gets into the United States is the key to understanding how fentanyl affects so many lives across the country.

Article at a Glance:

  • Fentanyl gets smuggled into the US from Mexico, Canada and China
  • Fentanyl is usually produced and trafficked out of China
  • Fentanyl was created in 1959 as an anesthetic and pain reliever

History of Fentanyl

The company Janssen Pharmaceutica first developed fentanyl in 1959. Then, it was primarily used as an anesthetic and pain reliever for medical purposes.

During the 1960s, fentanyl started to be used as an intravenous anesthetic called Sublimaze. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the fentanyl patch was introduced and could be used in the treatment of chronic pain.

After the introduction of the patch, other ways of delivering fentanyl were introduced, like the Actiq lollipop.

Where Does Fentanyl Come From?

Where does fentanyl come from, in regards to illicit use? Most fentanyl in the United States comes from China. China isn’t where fentanyl originated, but because of the lack of regulations in the pharmaceutical industry there, the country is a large distributor of drugs and chemicals that are illegal in other countries.

China exports many different types of fentanyl products, including raw fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and counterfeit prescription drugs like oxycodone that are laced with fentanyl.

While some fentanyl comes directly from China, many other Chinese shipments of fentanyl will enter the United States through Mexico. Fentanyl may come through Canada before entering the United States, though it is uncommon.

There are different ways smugglers get fentanyl into the United States. In 2015, United States border agents seized approximately 200 pounds of fentanyl among other synthetic opioids. In comparison, in 2014 they seized around 8 pounds.

China has shown interest in preventing fentanyl from being exported from their country illegally. There was also a piece of legislation signed into law in October 2018 in the United States called the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention Act. Despite these efforts, fentanyl remains one of the most problematic opioids in the United States.

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Editor – Megan Hull
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Dale, E., Ashby, F., Seelam, K. “Report of a patient chewing fentanyl pat[…]ated onto methadone.” BMJ Case Rep., November 24, 2009. Accessed March 29, 2019.

USA Today. “China’s deadliest export to America: fentanyl.” December 9, 2018. Accessed March 29, 2019.

United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. “Fentanyl: China’s Deadly Export to the United States.” February 1, 2017. Accessed March 29, 2019.

Pardo, B., Reuter, P. “China Can’t Solve America’s Fentanyl Problem.” Foreign Affairs, January 2, 2019. Accessed on March 29, 2019.

Ridge, T. “Fighting opioids in the mail.” The Washington Times, October 24, 2018. Accessed March 29, 2019.

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.