DEA Warns About Powerful Opioid

Fentanyl deemed a public health threat

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Fentanyl, a powerful opioid drug often used to relieve pain for terminally ill patients, may have some much more dangerous uses.

It's often used in heroin to increase the drug's potency, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That's part of the reason the DEA issued a warning about fentanyl Wednesday.

"Fentanyl is an incredibly potent narcotic pain medication that is available, by prescription, in a patch, lozenge or nasal spray dosage form," said Steve Leuck, PharmD, a pharmacist and founder of AudibleRx, in an interview with dailyRx News. "The fentanyl patch is restricted to opioid tolerant patients who require continuous around the clock opioid treatment which has not managed by alternative pain treatment options and the lozenge or nasal spray are used for acute uncontrolled breakthrough pain in cancer patients. Fentanyl is not only highly addictive, it is very closely monitored when prescribed for a patient due to its potential for causing death due to respiratory depression. Even one dose in a patients who is naive to opiates, especially children, may decrease respiration enough to cause death."

And it looks like people are producing the drug illegally.

“Often laced in heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart in a press release. "Fentanyl is extremely dangerous to law enforcement and anyone else who may come into contact with it."

In 2013, there were 942 fentanyl-related seizures in the US, according to the DEA. That figure spiked to 3,344 in 2014.

"When patients are administered this medication their heart function and breathing are closely monitored by the medical staff to assure they tolerate the dose appropriately," Dr. Leuck said. "Availability of this product on the streets, especially if laced in with other illicit drugs, is a deadly recipe."

Review Date: 
March 18, 2015
Last Updated:
March 20, 2015