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What is fentanyl and how does it kill?

What is fentanyl, how is it usually administered and what does it do to the body?

Here’s a quick look.

  • Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug is partly responsible for a recent surge in overdose deaths in some parts of the country. 
  • Fentanyl is similar to, but more potent than, morphine, and is used to manage pain after surgery or treat patients with severe pain.
  • Fentanyl is often administered in a patch. Sometimes cancer patients will take it via a lollypop.

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  • The drug is released into fat in the body. It moves slowly through the bloodstream providing several days of pain relief.
  • In its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, Onsolis, Instanyl, Fentora and Sublimaze. Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.
  • Mixing fentanyl with other drugs or with alcohol amplifies their potency and potential dangers.
  • Side effects from the drug include: euphoria, drowsiness/respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, and addiction.
  • The drug is considered a high risk for addiction and dependence.
  • Fentanyl acts on receptors in the brain and spinal cord to decrease the feeling of pain.
  • Fentanyl can cause serious or life-threatening respiratory problems.
  • More than 700 fentanyl-related overdose deaths were reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration in late 2013 and 2014.

Sources: The Associated Press; The National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institute on Drug Abuse; WebMD

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