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Fentanyl Abuse Statistics

Over the past decade, fentanyl abuse has increased dramatically, creating a serious public health crisis. Though accidental use accounts for many deaths, as fentanyl is often laced into other drugs, it is also common for people who are addicted to opioids to seek out fentanyl because it is known to be so strong.

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Fentanyl abuse has emerged as an international concern due to its potency, addictiveness, and risks. Much stronger than other opioids like heroin, and therefore potentially fatal in very small doses, fentanyl is a leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S.[1] 

Fentanyl abuse is driven by illicit production and distribution networks. Interventions against the problem include public health initiatives, education campaigns, policy revisions, and targeted interventions.[1]

Abuse Stats & Facts on Fentanyl 

Key Facts

  • Fentanyl is classified as a synthetic opioid. It is estimated to be about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.[1] 
  • Drug dealers benefit by mixing fentanyl into drugs that are sold on the street because it is cheap and strong in very small amounts.[2] 
  • Fentanyl is available legally and prescribed for medical use, but most fentanyl abuse happens with illegally produced fentanyl.[3]
  • It takes only 2 mg of fentanyl to be deadly. This is about the size of 15 grains of salt.[4]

What States Are Impacted the Most by Fentanyl Abuse?

  • About 86% of deaths due to drug overdose in Wisconsin were caused by a synthetic opioid like fentanyl.[2]
  • Approximately 6,000 people died of an opioid overdose (an overdose on a class of drugs that includes fentanyl) in 2021 in California.[5]
  • In Georgia, drug overdose deaths that involved fentanyl increased 124% between 2019 and 2021, from just over 600 to almost 1,400.[6]  
  • In Vermont, fentanyl was the cause of 86% of opioid overdose deaths in 2019, up from 77% the year prior.[7]

Overdose Statistics Related to Fentanyl

  • Fentanyl is the drug most commonly seen as the cause of overdose deaths.[1]
  • Fentanyl often causes overdose because it is unevenly mixed into other drugs or used to create fake pills that people expect to contain less potent substances.[2] 
  • In 2021, overdose deaths that involved the use of a synthetic opioid like fentanyl jumped 22% from the year prior.[8] 
  • In 2021, the rate of deaths that were caused by synthetic opioid overdose was almost 22 times what it was in 2013.[8]
  • An estimated 71,000 people died of a drug overdose that included the use of a synthetic opioid like fentanyl that was not methadone.[8]

Why Is Fentanyl Prevalent Now?

Fentanyl is exceptionally strong, and people who are living with OUD often seek out a strong high. Drug dealers want to keep customers happy, and they want to maximize their profits.[1] 

Fentanyl is far cheaper than other street drugs, so the dealer can cut another, more expensive drug with an innocuous substance and then add in some fentanyl. The user won’t be able to feel any change in potency due to fentanyl’s strength.[4] 

Illicit fentanyl is cheap and easy to produce on the black market, so it is far easier for drug dealers to get than prescription pills and other types of drugs. Many drug dealers give buyers fentanyl but tell them that it’s a different substance. For example, dealers might use fentanyl to make fake pills that look like commonly requested oxycodone or Vicodin.

How Is Fentanyl Brought Into the US?

Fentanyl is primarily brought into the United States from other countries, though in some cases it is made in the U.S. These are some of the key ways that fentanyl is trafficked into the U.S.:[9-12]

Illicit Production in Foreign Countries

A significant portion of fentanyl is manufactured in foreign countries, particularly in China and Mexico, and then shipped or smuggled into the U.S. Criminal organizations in these countries produce large quantities of fentanyl and its analogs. They either ship the final product or the components to the U.S. 

Mail & Package Shipments

Illicit fentanyl and its analogs are often shipped through the mail, concealed in small packages since such a small amount is needed to make a large amount of money. Traffickers may use couriers or mail the drug directly to buyers. Due to the small size and potency of fentanyl, it’s easier to conceal and transport than many other drugs.

Transshipment Through Canada

In some cases, to avoid detection, fentanyl is sometimes trafficked first to Canada. This way, the incoming package does not have a Chinese or Mexican address, which may be viewed as suspicious. 

Similarly, rather than smuggling the drug in other forms directly into the U.S. from China or Mexico, traffickers may come into the country through the Canadian border.

The Dark Web & Online Platforms

Fentanyl and its analogs can be purchased online, especially on the Dark Web, an encrypted part of the internet. Buyers can anonymously access websites to buy fentanyl products from an equally anonymous supplier. Fentanyl is then shipped directly to the consumer.

Concealment in Legal Shipments

Traffickers often hide fentanyl within legal shipments or legal packages to bypass law enforcement detection. They may mix fentanyl with other substances, conceal it within everyday items, or hide it in bulk goods to smuggle it across borders in shipping containers, cargo trucks, or passenger vehicles.

Trafficking via International Borders

Traffickers use various means to traffic fentanyl across international borders, including concealing it in vehicles, hiding it on their person, digging tunnels under borders, using remote waterways, or flying over and dropping bundles to partners who are waiting just over the border. 

Illicit Manufacturing 

While a significant amount of fentanyl is trafficked into the U.S. from foreign sources, there are several cases of illicit fentanyl production within the country. Illegal laboratories can produce fentanyl and its analogs, contributing to the supply on the street.

Steps to Improve Fentanyl Abuse Statistics

If you or anyone you know abuses fentanyl or any drug that could be laced with fentanyl, have naloxone (Narcan) on hand. This life-saving drug can immediately reverse an opioid overdose.[13] In cases of fentanyl overdose, multiple doses of naloxone may be needed.[14,15]

The best way to avoid fentanyl overdose and damage from OUD is through addiction treatment. Any use of fentanyl is highly dangerous and likely to result in overdose. Fentanyl

Addiction treatment for Fentanyl can help you manage OUD, so you stop all opioid misuse. Reach out for help today and start building a better life in recovery.

Updated December 18, 2023
Resources
  1. Fentanyl facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published September 6, 2023. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  2. Dose of reality: Get the facts on opioids. Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Published August 11, 2023. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published January 2015. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  4. Fighting the fentanyl crisis. Texas Health and Human Services. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  5. Fentanyl & opioid overdose prevention. California Department of Public Health. Last updated October 2, 2023. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  6. Opioid and substance misuse response general overview. Georgia Department of Public Health. Published February 22, 2023. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  7. Opioid-related fatalities among Vermonters. Vermont Department of Health. Published March 2020. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  8. Fentanyl | CDC’s response to the opioid overdose epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published 2021. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  9. Fentanyl flow to the United States DEA Intelligence Report. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published 2020. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  10. Fentanyl seizures at border continue to spike, making San Diego a national epicenter for fentanyl trafficking; U.S. Attorney’s Office prioritizes prosecutions and prevention Programs. Gordon A. United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California. Published August 11, 2022. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  11. Administration announces strengthened approach to crack down on illicit fentanyl supply chains. Fact sheet: Biden-Harris The White House. Published April 11, 2023. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  12. U.S. announces sweeping action against Chinese fentanyl supply chain producers. PBS NewsHour. Published October 3, 2023. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  13. Naloxone. Jordan MR, Morrisonponce D. StatPearls. Published 2019. Accessed November 10, 2023.
  14. Higher doses of naloxone are needed in the synthetic opioid era. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. Moss RB, Carlo DJ. 2019;14(1).
  15. Naloxone dosing after opioid overdose in the era of illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Carpenter J, Murray BP, Atti S, Moran TP, Yancey A, Morgan B. Journal of Medical Toxicology. 2019;16(1):41-48.
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