The number of deaths from the potent opioid painkiller fentanyl in Jefferson County , Ala., has skyrocketed in recent years, climbing from just three in 2010 to 25 in 2014. A startling 33 fentanyl-related deaths have already been reported in the first five months of 2015.
Fentanyl is used to treat breakthrough pain in patients already on 24-hour opioid medication, such as patients dealing with cancer pain. It is 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl delivers a euphoric high, making it prone to misuse and abuse. It is known by the brand names Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Street names include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, and Tango-and-Cash.
Fentanyl is available as a transdermal patch, transmucosal (cavity in the mouth between the cheek and gum) lozenge, nasal spray, tablets, injections and sprays. However, the fentanyl that is seized on the streets of Jefferson County has been in the form of a white powder that has been manufactured illegally in a lab in Mexico. This is even more dangerous because there is no way of knowing how strong it actually is, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office.
Fentanyl is strongly associated with heroin and is primarily sold by people who sell heroin and used by those who use heroin. Some users may not be aware they are taking fentanyl instead of heroin, authorities say.
In some cases, heroin or cocaine may be laced with fentanyl, which can markedly amplify the potency of the drug and increase the risk of serious side effects including respiratory depression and arrest, sedation, coma and death.