Fentanyl Fact Sheet


  Fentanyl Fact Sheet

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What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a strong synthetic opioid that can be used to cut other substances, meaning that people may not even be aware they are consuming it.1 Since 2012, fentanyl-involved overdoses have risen at a rate 2.5 times that of heroin.7

Fentanyl is dangerous because even a very small amount can be lethal, with less than 2 mg (0.00007 ounces) leading to certain death, without intervention.7

Facts & statistics

Between April 2019-April 2020 fentanyl was involved in 42,687 overdose deaths.7

A lethal dose of heroin is 100 mg, but a lethal dose of fentanyl is 2 mg, with doses as small as 0.25 mg, equivalent to a single grain of sand, placing the person at a high risk for overdose.7

Intended use

Fentanyl is used as a pain reliever in very small doses after surgery.2

Fentanyl is sometimes given intravenously in very small doses as an anesthetic or used in combination with another anesthetic for procedures.4

Any recreational use is Illegal.2

Desired effects of recreational use

Depends on amount consumed and method of use:

  • Feeling of euphoria and relaxation1
  • Pain relief1

Common names

Apache, China Girl, China Town, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Great Bear, He-Man, Jackpot, King Ivory, Murder 8, and Tango & Cash.1

Prescription names

Abstral®, Actiq®, Duragesic®, Fentora®, Lazanda®, Subsys®¹


  • Taken orally as a pill1
  • Snorting the grinded powder up the nose1
  • Smoking1
  • Spiked on blotter paper1
  • Removing gel from patches and injecting or ingesting the contents1
  • Oral transmucosal lozenges (“lollipops”)1
  • Sublingual or nasal sprays1

How fentanyl works

Fentanyl works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and interrupting the signaling of pain between the central nervous system (CNS) and the body.3

While fentanyl works similarly to morphine, it is roughly 100 times more potent and 50 times more potent than heroin for pain relief.1

Over time the body becomes less sensitive to fentanyl usage, meaning that larger quantities of the drug are required to gain the same effect. This can lead to fentanyl addiction.2

Short term health effects

  • Pain relief1
  • Sedation and drowsiness1
  • Confusion1
  • Dizziness1
  • Loss of consciousness2
  • Nausea and vomiting1
  • Rash/skin irritation3
  • Constriction of the pupils1
  • Overdose1

Long term health effects

  • Slowed and ineffective breathing5
  • Constipation5
  • Urinary retention1
  • Sleep disturbance5
  • Increased risk of fractures, especially in the elderly5
  • Increased risk of mental illness5
  • Overdose1


  • Muscle or bone pain2
  • Sleep disturbance2
  • Vomiting2
  • Diarrhea2
  • Goose bumps accompanied by cold flashes2
  • Severe cravings2
  • Uncontrollable movement of the legs2

Given the symptoms of withdrawal, a person may need medical supervision to ensure their safety during the process.8


An overdose can be intentional or unintentional, and is when a large enough dose of fentanyl is taken to have serious adverse health effects, including life threatening symptoms or death.2

Signs of fentanyl overdose1
  • Change in pupil size
  • Slowed and ineffective breathing
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Blue or grayish skin
  • Coma

Fentanyl is increasingly being used to cut other drugs including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. Not only does this increase overdose risk, but patients may be unaware they are consuming fentanyl.2

In the event of an overdose, naloxone can be administered. However, due to the potency of fentanyl, multiple doses of naloxone may be needed.2

Addiction treatment

Studies have shown that a combination of medical and therapeutic interventions is the most effective treatment.2

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
Therapeutic interventions2
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Contingency Management
  • Motivational Interviewing


Fentanyl was synthesized in 1960 as an intravenous anesthetic and went on the market in the U.S. in 1968.6

Transdermal fentanyl was developed in the 1980s and was subsequently used for pain management in cancer patients.6

Lozenge (or lollipop) fentanyl was developed in 1984 and was presented as a “child-friendly” form. This form was approved in 1993 to be given pre-surgery for painful surgeries involving children and adults.6

Rapid-onset delivery systems were developed and sold starting around 2007-2008 and come in a variety of forms including nasal, buccal, and sublingual transmucosal forms.6


  1. Fentanyl: Drug Fact Sheet
  2. Fentanyl DrugFacts
  3. Fentanyl
  4. Fentanyl (compound): MeSH Pharmacological Classification
  5. A Review of Potential Adverse Effects of Long-Term Opioid Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide
  6. The Fentanyl Story
  7. Fentanyl Abuse Statistics
  8. Withdrawal


This fact sheet was developed by the Oregon State University Coast to Forest team, a collaboration of the College of Health, OSU Center for Health Innovation and OSU Extension Service Family & Community Health program. We would like to thank the H 310 Health Field Experience students for their contributions.

For more information and to explore local resources, check out the Coast to Forest County-Specific Resource Guides.