Some street names for the drug (or for non-pharmaceutical fentanyl-laced heroin) include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT and Tango and Cash, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
According to a February 2019 U.S. government report, fentanyl in recent years has been traced to illegal labs in China and Mexico, trafficked to countries including the U.S., laced with heroin and sold to buyers who have no knowledge of the drug’s presence.
Physicians prescribe fentanyl as a pain reliever or anesthesia, typically for opioid-tolerant patients undergoing heart surgery (as anesthesia), cancer patients already receiving maintenance opioid medication for pain or patients with chronic pain who need around-the-clock opioids.
The controlled substance can be legally prescribed via injection, patch, lozenges or lollipop.
Fentanyl (and other opioids) binds to receptors in parts of the brain that control pain and emotions, increasing dopamine levels and creating a state of euphoria.
Like any opiate, fentanyl use can increase the risk of dependency and lead to abuse and addiction. When the drug isn’t properly ingested as prescribed or is consumed illicitly or accidentally, just one small dose can result in death.
Because fentanyl is so highly potent, drug dealers have increasingly been mixing heroin, oxycodone or Xanax with fentanyl, deceiving buyers who are unaware that a powder or pill contains the drug.
One strain of fentanyl (furanyl fentanyl) is so potent that you could die from just touching it, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
In fentanyl overdose cases, doctors may administer naloxone (or Narcan), a medication that can quickly stop opioid overdose effects by blocking opioid receptors, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
But some strains of fentanyl, like acrylfentanyl and tetrahydrofuran fentanyl, are so deadly they may be immune to naloxone, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Some scientists, however, believe this notion of naxolone immunity is a growing misconception.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, naxolone and other opioid antagonists, if administered quickly and at a sufficient dose, are effective against opioids regardless of their potency.