By Harm Reduction Educators Steff Pinch and Marissa Martins
Fentanyl has been a big buzzword in the wake of the overdose crisis. The government of Ontario has even funded an ad campaign championing Naloxone, an opioid antidote, as a response to an increasing number of reports of fentanyl appearing in people’s street drugs and playing a part in overdoses. What is not well understood is that, when used correctly with proper dosage, Fentanyl can be used safely.
Truth: It’s Potent, It’s Cheap, It Is A Common Adulterant
Fentanyl is a very powerful, very potent opiate. Yes – in very small quantities, it can send an individual into overdose. This is particularly a risk if the individual using the drug does not have an opiate tolerance, or does not know that fentanyl is in their supply (eg. a person purchases what they are told is heroin and actually contains some fentanyl).
Fentanyl is cheap to manufacture, powerful in small amounts, and can feel a lot like other opiates at a lower price point. Cross-contamination is likely because Fentanyl is notoriously hard to mix, there are many analogues of it, and a tiny bit can have a huge effect. This means if someone puts one substance on a surface that has had fentanyl on it and doesn’t properly sterilize it, cross-contamination might have occurred. Because it’s so powerful, it has been thrown in with lower quality drugs to make them feel more intense.
False: It Is Bad, Always Dangerous, And Has No “Legitimate” Use
Here’s the part that isn’t often talked about – Fentanyl is the drug of choice for lots of opiate users, and fentanyl is not uncommonly given in medical settings, either. Lots of people are using fentanyl on purpose. It is prescribed in various forms – transdermal patches can be effective for folks with severe cancer pain or chronic pain illnesses. In surgery and emergency rooms, fentanyl may be given intravenously to people experiencing intense pain. Fentanyl has been used in epidurals during child labour. There are even fentanyl lozenges for intense, episodic pain.
Because of an unregulated drug supply (a product of criminalization and the Drug War), fentanyl has found its way into a supply of illicit drugs. Without regulations in place, individuals don’t necessarily know what they’re going to get when they’re using street drugs, and therefore, are at a higher risk of encountering fentanyl and experiencing adverse effects from its usage.
Video: Fentanyl: What You Need to Know by The Drug Classroom: