Why is fentanyl dangerous?

Everyone is talking about fentanyl, and for good reason; it’s more common than most think, and the rates of accidental overdoses are the leading cause of death for 18 to 45 year old’s.

I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes:

  • What is fentanyl?
  • Why is fentanyl dangerous?
  • How common is fentanyl?
  • Tips for staying safe

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin or morphine.

Drug traffickers often mix fentanyl into other drugs because it is cheaper and a small amount goes a long way.

Why is fentanyl dangerous?

Those who cut drugs with fentanyl do not always know how much product they are using, so it is easy to overdose. It’s often mixed with other substances like: powders (cocaine), capsules, fake Rx pills (like Xanax or Oxy/ M30s)… and many more.

Also because fentanyl is so incredibly potent only 2mg can be lethal and many counterfeit pills contain 5mg, which is more than twice the lethal dose. If you’re unsure of how much 2mg is, take a look at the image below:

Image Source: University of Colorado – Boulder

The most alarming part of this is that legit pills are hard to tell apart from fake versions. See if you can tell the difference between the two:

Image Source: University of Colorado – Boulder

How common is fentanyl?

Fentanyl may be more common than you think and we’ve found out (through the DEA) that nearly half of counterfeit pills tested contained a lethal dose of fentanyl

Tips for Staying Safe

TipsMore InfoResources
Know what you're getting into

Be careful of “Stranger Supplies” – assume that any pill or drug not purchased directly from a pharmacy could contain fentanyl. That goes for prescription medications like Xanax or Oxycodone, as well as illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, meth.

Find out more:

University of Colorado Boulder
Fentanyl Facts

Practice Harm Reduction if using

Invest in fentanyl test strips – these can be found online and sometimes organizations that serve drug users may even provide these for free; so check out your local harm reduction resources

Make a safety plan – is there a trusted individual available to be around while you use? Did you test your supply? Are you rotating injection sites? Did you clean your drug paraphernalia? Have you eaten well and hydrated beforehand? Do you and/or your person have narcan easily + readily available to use if needed? How is your tolerance – do you need to adjust how much and how frequently you are using?

Carry Narcan (naloxone) and use it

Narcan will not harm someone who is not overdosing—when in doubt use it!

Learn how to use it here.

Check with your Tribal Clinic or School Nurse.

Also, in most states, you can get naloxone at your local pharmacy without a prescription, or from naloxone programs or syringe service programs.

Signs of Overdose

Recognizing the signs of opioid overdose can save a life. Here are some things to look for:

• Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
• Falling asleep or losing consciousness
• Slow, weak, or no breathing
• Choking or gurgling sounds
• Limp body
• Cold and/or clammy skin
• Discolored skin (especially in lips and nails)

What to do

1. Call 911 Immediately (or your local hospital if 911 is not available)
2. Administer naloxone, if available
3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing
4. Lay the person on their side to prevent choking
5. Stay with the person until emergency assistance arrives

Just so you know, most States have laws that protect people who call 911 AND the person who is overdosing. If someone needs help, call for help.

Lastly, if you or a friend need help to start your recovery journey, you can call your tribal clinic to see what services they have available or find a treatment center near you by going to and entering your zip code.

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