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What is Fentanyl Made Of?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Opioid drugs can be lifesavers when it comes to treating severe pain, however, they are highly addictive and carry a high potential for abuse and dependence. The stronger the opioid, the more addictive and dangerous it is when used recreationally. One of the strongest opioid drugs is fentanyl.

Fentanyl is so powerful that people can overdose by taking an amount so small that it is barely visible to the human eye. In the 12-month period ending in April 2021, 75,673 people died from an opioid-related overdose. The CDC reports that the majority of these opioid overdose deaths were sadly driven by fentanyl.[1]

Unfortunately, fentanyl is becoming more commonplace in America’s black market drug supply. It has been found in various substances ranging from heroin and other opioids to prescription drugs like Xanax. As a result, it’s important to spread awareness about this deadly drug, what fentanyl is made of, and why it’s so dangerous.

What is Fentanyl?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.[2] The drug is available in the form of a prescription or it can be purchased illicitly on the streets for recreational use. As a medicine, it is primarily only used to treat patients with severe pain after surgery or those who have a tolerance for other opioids, such as cancer patients.

Fentanyl was first made in 1959 by a man named Paul Janssen. He created fentanyl to be structurally similar to other opioids like morphine, but entirely man-made or synthetic. Today, there are many different fentanyl analogs available, including carfentanil, sufentanil, isotonitazene, and U-47700.

What is Fentanyl Made Of?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid meaning it is not naturally derived from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant like other opioids are. Instead, it is entirely made of chemicals.

The chemical name for fentanyl is N-phenyl-N propenamide. This is made using a four-step process that involves condensing N-benzyl-4-piperidone, reducing N-benzyl-4-piperidone with LAH, and performing a chemical reaction called the Finkelstein reaction.

Even though fentanyl is made up of chemicals, these chemicals are synthesized from the opium poppy plant. This is why it has similar effects as other opioid drugs.

Today, medicinal fentanyl is made by pharmaceutical providers. Illegally manufactured fentanyl, on the other hand, is primarily manufactured in foreign clandestine labs and smuggled into the United States through Mexico and China.[3]

Medicinal Fentanyl

Fentanyl has legitimate medical uses and it comes in many forms, including:[4]

  • Transdermal patches – Patches are the most commonly used form of fentanyl. They are sold under the brand name Duragesic and slowly release fentanyl into the skin and the bloodstream over the course of 2-3 days.
  • Intravenous liquid – IV fentanyl is usually used for anesthesia and analgesia.
  • Lozenges/Lollipops – Fentanyl also comes in the form of a lozenge or lollipop that patients can suck on. This is a fast-acting way of delivering fentanyl to the system. These are often sold under the brand name Actiq.
  • Nasal spray – Lazanda is name-brand nasal spray fentanyl.
  • Buccal tablets – These tablets are placed between the cheek and the gums and slowly dissolve. A popular brand name is Fentora.
  • Sublingual tablets – These tablets are placed under the tongue and slowly absorb into the bloodstream. They are sold under the brand name Abstral.
  • Sublingual spray – This spray is sprayed under the tongue and sold under the brand name Subsys.

Even people who use fentanyl medicinally should do so with extreme caution. Changing the method of administration or doubling up on a dose can be life-threatening.

Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl (IMF)

Illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is far more dangerous than prescription fentanyl because it is not regulated. Dealers can add as much of the substance as they want to other drugs and buyers rarely know exactly what they are getting. The only way to truly know whether or not a substance contains fentanyl is to test it using test strips.

IMF is available in two different forms: a powder and a liquid. Powdered fentanyl is far more common and can look like many other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. It is often added to other substances or counterfeit pills to increase the potency and decrease overall costs.

In liquid form, IMF can be found in nasal sprays, eye drops, or even dropped onto small pieces of paper or onto candies.[5]

Other fentanyl analogs (or synthetic opioids that are similar to heroin) that are sold on the black market include acetyl fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl. Both of these drugs are just as dangerous as fentanyl.

Find Help for Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction

Just two milligrams of fentanyl (equivalent to a few grains) is enough to kill. If you or someone you love has been abusing fentanyl, it’s time to seek professional help. The deeper you fall into your addiction, the more likely you are to suffer the devastating consequences of your drug use.

Don’t wait any longer to seek the life-changing care you deserve. Call now to speak with a qualified admissions coordinator at Carolina Center for Recovery. Our opioid detox and treatment programs can help you recover.