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Where Does Fentanyl Come From?

drug detah from fentanylFentanyl was first synthesized in 1963 as an alternative to natural opioids like morphine. At up to 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl is a powerful pain reliever. However, the drug is also commonly used recreationally, including in the manufacture of counterfeit OxyContin, Xanax, Adderall, and others. That’s often extremely dangerous for users, because fentanyl and its analogues, like carfentanil, are extremely strong. In fact, fentanyl is responsible for an estimated 70% of all opioid overdoses.

Despite that, fentanyl is an extremely important medical drug. It’s the 278th most commonly prescribed medicine in the United States and is normally used for short-term pain relief. It’s also the most commonly used synthetic opioid in prescription medication. Unfortunately, fentanyl can also be extremely dangerous and very addictive. In addition, Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl, known as IMF, is sold with no quality controls and may introduce added risks in the form of contaminants, unknown strength, and being mixed with other drugs.

History of Fentanyl

Fentanyl or Fentanil is a synthetic opioid, first manufactured in 1959 by Paul Janssen, under Jansen Pharmaceuticals, which would later become half of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical company. By 1968, the drug had entered medical use as a general anesthetic, used to enable surgery. By 1994, Janssen Pharmaceuticals had introduced several slow-release fentanyl patches, which released the drug over a period of 48-72 hours.

Today, Fentanyl is one of the most popular prescription medications. It’s listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medication. In 2019, it was the 278th most popular prescription medication, with nearly 4,400 pounds of the drug used globally, and almost 1.5 million prescriptions in the United States. Despite that, Fentanyl is also extremely commonly abused, in part because it is cheap to illicitly manufacture and sell.

Medical Manufacture

Fentanyl is manufactured for medical use as a pill, lozenge, slow-release patch, and as a spray. Some organizations like Actiq have also released child-friendly dosage, with Fentanyl sold in the form of a lollipop. These drugs are manufactured under US DEA ACSCN of 9801, with a manufacturing quota usually right around 2,000 kg/4,400 pounds. These drugs are then packaged to exacting standards, with quality and strength controlled to ensure pills, patches, and lozenges are safe to take according to prescriptions.

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Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl

photo of the word fentanyl written in the bookNon-prescription fentanyl or illicitly manufactured fentanyl is increasingly common. In fact, the drug is quickly becoming one of the most frequently smuggled illicit drugs. That’s because fentanyl relative ease of manufacture and relative high strength combine to make it affordable to make and profitable to sell.

Most illicitly manufactured fentanyl comes out of China, Myanmar, Burma, and even Mexico. These drugs are then imported, often as a counterfeit of another medication, and then sold on the black market. Unfortunately, illicitly manufactured Fentanyl is estimated to account for some 82% of all fentanyl overdoses, with prescribed fentanyl accounting for some 4% of overdoses. In addition, Fentanyl is responsible for nearly half of all overdose deaths.

Counterfeit Prescription Medication

It’s also used in the manufacture of counterfeit prescription pills sold on the recreational market. Fentanyl is used to make Xanax and Adderall counterfeits, despite neither drug containing opioids. Fentanyl is also very often used to increase the strength of heroin that’s been cut too much with a non-opioid substance, to create counterfeit prescription painkillers like Oxycodone and Morphine.

These counterfeit pills are also extremely dangerous because users many not even realize they’re taking an opioid. Someone with a Xanax addiction will have no tolerance to opioids, greatly increasing the chance of overdose. In addition, someone who’s taking what they think is a weaker drug may be more inclined to take a higher dose or to mix it with alcohol, both of which are dangerous to begin with, but which becomes more dangerous with a very potent opioid like Fentanyl. Often, the people who buy counterfeit medication to re-sale don’t know what they are buying – making the drug even more dangerous. E.g., if someone thinks they’ve taken Xanax and starts to overdose, they won’t take Naloxone, which can reverse a fentanyl overdose.


If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid use, chances are, you are taking fentanyl. The drug is found in a significant number of recreational drugs, including in heroin and morphine because dealers cut their low quality drugs with it. Naloxone is a low cost or free opioid reversal drug, which you can request at most safe usage facilities, at most doctors’ offices, at Walgreens, and via the Narcan website. While naloxone is still a prescription medication in Canada, you can purchase it over the counter in all 50 U.S. states.

Here, it’s important to note that Fentanyl lasts longer than Narcan. You may have to administer more than one dose of Naloxone if an ambulance takes longer than about 30 minutes to arrive. In addition, administering Naloxone is not a reason not to call an ambulance, as someone going into an overdose may face significant health problems over the next 2-8 hours. They need medical care in a hospital.

Getting Help

Fentanyl is extremely strong, often illicitly manufactured with no quality control or oversight, and often sold as non-opioid drugs. In addition, analogous drugs are often sold that are as much as 100 times stronger than fentanyl. If you or a loved one is abusing Fentanyl, there is significant risk in taking the drug each time you take it from a non-prescription source or in a dose greater than that offered in a prescription.

Unfortunately, fentanyl is also addictive. Breaking the habit means finding and treating the underlying mental health problems behind drug addiction, building a basis of behaviors and coping mechanisms that allow you to deal with cravings, and build the basis of a healthy life without drugs. That means getting treatment in the form of behavioral therapy, counseling, and long-term support in the form of aftercare, ongoing treatment, and ongoing counseling.

If you or a loved one is struggling, there is help. Asana Recovery provides a full continuum of highly effective drug rehab and alcohol rehab programs. If you have questions for yourself, or your loved one, contact us today to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced and caring addiction treatment team.