What is Fentanyl?

September 20, 2018. Article by: Government of B.C.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is more toxic than most other opioids. Fentanyl is sometimes prescribed by doctors to help patients who are dealing with severe pain (for example, pain from cancer). But in recent years, it’s also being made in illegal labs and sold on the streets, often mixed with other drugs.

The drug supply is contaminated with fentanyl, which was detected in at least 85 per cent of overdose deaths in B.C. in 2018. These overdoses are happening all across the province to people from all walks of life, leaving countless families, friends and communities in unimaginable grief.  

The solution is far more complicated than, “people should just stop doing drugs.” Many people who suffer from years of deeply rooted physical pain and emotional pain use alcohol and other drugs to find relief. Learning the facts, however, and speaking about substance use without judgement can help prevent overdoses and save lives.

Fentanyl facts

  • Fentanyl is up to 100 times more toxic than morphine and up to 50 times more toxic than heroin.
  • As little as two milligrams of powdered fentanyl can cause an overdose and death (that’s about the same amount as two grains of salt).
  • Fentanyl can be mixed with pills, powder or injectable liquid in drugs like fake oxycodone, heroin or cocaine.
  • People may take fentanyl without knowing it. Drug testing facilities at supervised consumption sites in Vancouver recently found fentanyl in more than 90% of substances expected to be heroin, and over 65% of other opioids (for example, hydromorphone, morphine, and oxycodone from the illegal drug supply).
  • Pills or powders made in the same batch can have different amounts of fentanyl – one pill may have little traces of fentanyl while another may have deadly amounts.
  • Fentanyl is odorless, tasteless, and colourless. There is no easy way to know if fentanyl (or how much of it) is in a drug – people can’t see it just by looking.
  • Using fentanyl at the same time as alcohol, cocaine, other opioids (like heroin, morphine, methadone or codeine), benzodiazepines, or methamphetamines, increases the risk of overdose.

How to keep yourself and those you care about safer

People buying drugs anywhere other than a pharmacy or other licenced distributor can’t be sure about the quality of the substances they intend to take. Getting informed and talking with people you trust about fentanyl will help keep you and those you care about safer. Watch this video to learn more about fentanyl.



Related articles

Vancouver Coastal Health: About opioids

Toward the Heart: Opioid Overdose Awareness