Differences Between Illicit and Pharmaceutical Fentanyl: What You Need to Know

Understanding the difference between these two types of drugs is essential, as they have very different purposes and implications.

Differences Between Illicit and Pharmaceutical Fentanyl: What You Need to Know

Understanding the difference between these two types of drugs is essential, as they have very different purposes and implications.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that has been making headlines lately because of its role in increasing overdose deaths across North America. There are two main types of fentanyl: illicit fentanyl and pharmaceutical fentanyl. Understanding the difference between these two types of drugs is essential, as they have very different purposes and implications. In this blog post, we will discuss the differences between illicit and pharmaceutical fentanyl, the dangers of both types, and tips to stay safe.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid that was introduced into the medical field as an intravenous anesthetic under the trade name of Sublimaze in the 1960s. It is a powerful, short-acting painkiller that’s about 100 times more potent than morphine. It has high lipid solubility and quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier to produce relief from pain.

Pharmaceutical grade fentanyl is currently available as:

  • Actiq®– oral transmucosal lozenges, commonly referred to as the fentanyl “lollipops.” 
  • Fentora®– effervescent buccal tablets 
  • Abstral®– sublingual tablet 
  • Subsys®– sublingual spray 
  • Lazanda®– nasal spray 
  • Duragesic®– transdermal patches, and injectable formulations.

In 2015 there were six million prescriptions dispensed per year, with two thirds going to patients with cancer or other painful medical conditions. Still, during peak times for the opioid crisis (2016-2017), this changed drastically when widespread abuse led many doctors to stop prescribing them altogether because they could not distinguish between legitimate patient needs and addiction, which caused many patients to feel abandoned and desperate.

Illicit Fentanyl

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), synthetic opioids — namely illicit fentanyl — remain the primary cause of fatal overdoses in the United States. 

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China is the main country of origin for illicit fentanyl, and its analogs are trafficked into the United States. In 2019, China fulfilled a pledge to U.S. authorities by placing all forms on a regulatory schedule designed primarily as drug substances or raw materials used in the manufacturing of fentanyl. While China’s shipment of these lethal materials directly into America has decreased, shipments coming in through Mexico have been increasing at record numbers. 

The connection between China and Mexico has grown due to increased fentanyl precursor sales by Chinese traffickers. In March 2021, Matthew Donahue described this situation as “an unlimited supply” that would keep arriving at Mexican cartels’ doors without end — a description which perfectly fits the tasks currently facing law enforcement agencies throughout both countries today. 

The waves of fentanyl coming into the United States from Mexico are not just reaching our shores, they’re crashing on top of us. In recent months, multiple busts with arrests and seizures link these pill mills in Juarez to make finished Chinese sourced precursors for trafficking across America’s US – Mexico border right here at home!

Hidden Fentanyl Deaths: How Drug Makers Are Killing Americans 

Fentanyl is currently found in most counterfeit oxycodone pills and other medications. It is difficult to distinguish between the actual medications from the illicit ones because, as they can easily pass for legal drugs due to its near-identical appearance with many different manufacturers’ logos on each pill or capsule. When this lethal drug is found in other substances, like benzodiazepines, cocaine, and methamphetamines, users with no tolerance to opioids are at much higher risks of dying. Some advocates consider hidden fentanyl deaths as murder by poisoning.

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) data, shows that fentanyl is now widely encountered in powder form and as prescription drugs such as oxycodone or Xanax. The danger of illicit fentanyl comes from its potency. A tiny granule of this lethal substance can cause override the body’s natural reflexes to breathe, leading to respiratory depression and death.

Border Crisis Continue to Fuel Fentanyl Deaths

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has seen a record number of seizures along the southwest border, with agents remarking that one reason for this uptick in drug trafficking is due to increased migration from Central America. 

During last year’s surge in illegal immigration, Border Patrol agents were relocated to process the migrants. This surge led to the closing of inspection checkpoints, allowing drug traffickers to go undetected. The unprecedented upsurge of fentanyl coming into the USA has had disastrous consequences on our citizens and generations to come. Unfortunately, this tragic situation continues to evolve.

Fentanyl Overdose and Narcan 

Narcan (naloxone) is a life-saving drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The issue is that not everyone who needs Narcan knows how to use it or where to get it. Many people believe that Narcan is only for police or first responders, which is not the case. Narcan can be administered by anyone – a friend, family member, or stranger.

It is vital to let the public know about Narcan’s ability to reverse an overdose, where to get this life-saving medication, and how to use it. We need to make sure that people have access to this life-saving drug in case of an overdose.

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If you are using illicit drugs, be especially careful and take steps to reduce your risk of exposure to fentanyl. These steps include not using drugs alone, carrying naloxone (Narcan), and being aware of the signs of an overdose. If you think someone may be overdosing on fentanyl, the symptoms may include having trouble breathing or swallowing; extreme sleepiness with no response when called upon. The most common overdose responses are:

  • Lips turning blue
  • Gurgling sounds 
  • Body stiffness or seizure-like activity
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Confusion or bizarre behavior before becoming unresponsive

Getting Treatment

If you are struggling with fentanyl dependence, please seek help. Many resources are available, including medically assisted detox treatment centers, drug rehabs, and support groups. Don’t let fentanyl take your life – there is hope for recovery.

It is essential to clearly understand the differences between a medical detox program and substance abuse rehabilitation. At the same time, both help those struggling with drug addiction, medical detoxification monitors and manages the physical symptoms of withdrawal, while rehabs mainly offer psychological and peer support.

Fentanyl addiction is frightening and, more than ever, a dangerous activity. Withdrawal from fentanyl can be challenging and intense; although opioid withdrawal is generally not considered life-threatening on its own; however, some of the medical and psychological symptoms may lead to complications that can be deadly. It is always good to get assistance from medical and mental health professionals through detoxification who can utilize multiple strategies for managing withdrawal effects while keeping patients safe.

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By The Fix

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