How fentanyl took over the illicit drug industry

Given these stories and statistics, the obvious question is: how much fentanyl is lethal? Unfortunately, the answer is that we don’t know.

In early January, a $1 million drug operation took place in Austin, Texas, involving at least 12 people and 100,000 counterfeit pills. What were those pills laced with? fentanyl. Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to Austin. This is just one example of the growing threat and dominance of fentanyl at the heart of the illicit drug industry. Here’s what you need to know about the danger of the reach and the risk of the drug in 2022.

Explode in the drug scene

In less than a decade, drug overdose deaths in the United States have more than doubled. For the first time in the country’s history, those numbers have surpassed 100,000 deaths. This number represents a wide range of drugs, but many people see fentanyl at the heart of it all. However, recent studies paint an even bleaker picture of fentanyl than the world of drug mortality rates.

In fact, a recent article makes the shocking statement that fentanyl is the leading killer of Americans ages 18-45! Mortality statistics show that fentanyl accounts for more deaths in this population than deaths attributed to car accidents, suicide, Covid-19 or cancer in 2021.

If so many people are dying from fentanyl, what does that say about the number of people who are taking it regularly? The WHO estimates that around 62 million people use opioids worldwide, with the vast majority using illicit forms of opioids containing fentanyl. This means that while we cannot know exactly how widespread fentanyl is, opioid use in general is a helpful indicator.

Drug Efficacy and Profit Potential

So why the explosion in fentanyl use and, more importantly, the fentanyl overdose? What is this drug and what makes it such a desirable drug game of Russian Roulette?

Unlike opiates, which are made from the opium poppy plant, fentanyl is a synthetic drug. Despite the dangers already mentioned, fentanyl has limited legitimate uses. Its original design is intended for use in the treatment of extreme pain or end-of-life treatment. Because this is the only official use of fentanyl in medical treatment, its health effects on users are unknown and understudied. The targeted use of fentanyl in extreme cases also explains why it comes with a very high potency. In comparison, it is 50 to 100 times more potent than other opioids such as morphine and heroin.

This explains why fentanyl is dangerous enough in the right hands – and deadly in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, fentanyl spends a lot of time in the wrong hands — especially in unsuspecting hands. The fentanyl drug bust in Austin was the seizure of 100,000 pills made to look like oxycodone. In other words, potential buyers of these pills were planning to buy oxycodone and not fentanyl. The same pattern of fentanyl tricks is found with other counterfeit drugs, including supposedly high-grade cocaine, heroin, and hydrocodone.

Photo by James Yrema on Unsplash

The profit potential for these sellers is pretty straightforward. Buying illegally sourced fentanyl from Chinese manufacturers on the dark web or from drug cartel operations in Mexico is inexpensive compared to the real-world costs and dangers of smuggling. Instead, fentanyl plays the primary role in drug degradation. Distributors can cut their drugs with fentanyl and sell them as premium or premium versions without the buyer knowing what the drug really is.

This explains the popularity of fentanyl and the reason for the continued rise in overdose deaths. Because users are unable to precisely regulate their dosage levels (or even the ingredients) of these illegal drugs, stories of people dying from taking what they believe to be painkillers keep cropping up. Fentanyl is as unforgiving as it is powerful. It’s easy to see why some refer to it as a Russian roulette game.

Knowledge is less than half the battle

Given these stories and statistics, the obvious question is: how much fentanyl is lethal? Unfortunately, the answer is that we don’t know. It’s true that these extreme cases of prescription fentanyl come with an official dosage amount, but that’s out the window when it comes to street fentanyl. The reason one dose of fentanyl can be fatal is that there is no way to check how much is present. Since there is no way to regulate the content of illegal drugs, it should be assumed that what you are buying contains traces of fentanyl, which are lethal levels.

A better option than playing Russian roulette with fentanyl is to go the reliable route – quitting illegal drug use altogether. But if you or someone you know may have used fentanyl, there are some understandable short- and long-term effects, including things like decreased appetite, slurred speech, or short-term low blood pressure. Long-term effects can include brain changes, organ damage, or severe breathing problems.

While the above effects are good warning signs, they should not replace emergency life-saving treatment. An example is the use of naloxone, the standard drug used to treat opioid overdose. Because of this, it is important that you get medical attention straight away for yourself or others who have known or may be using fentanyl. Fentanyl may be taking over the illicit drug industry, but it’s also killing users at an alarming rate. The only way to avoid the dangers of this drug is to avoid it completely.


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Wall Street Journal. (2021, November 17). Drug Overdose Deaths Fueled By Fentanyl Hit Record High In US mod=article_inline

ABC Denver (2022, January 4). Fentanyl is the leading cause of death in Americans ages 18 to 45. Retrieved from

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