Accidental Fentanyl Use On The Rise

In a recent study of people who use drugs in New York City, 83% tested positive for Fentanyl, but only 18% reported intentional use.

This is an alarming nationwide trend, as related findings were also seen in Massachusetts (86% tested positive; 15% intentionally used) and Texas (where Opioid-related overdoses quadrupled from 2020 to 2022). In all 50 states, Fentanyl use and deadly overdose are on the rise.

Fentanyl As An Additive

Fentanyl, a synthetic Opioid analgesic, has been used for many years to treat severe pain following surgery and cancer treatment. Often prescribed in the form of a transdermal patch, its use is deemed relatively safe when used correctly and under medical supervision. However, in 2013, it gained traction on the illicit drug market as an additive to Opioids and other drugs due to its strong effects, lower cost of production, and ease of blending with other substances.

Though most often mixed with Heroin due to its white, powder-like texture, Fentanyl has been increasingly found in other drugs such as Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Benzodiazepines.

Danger Of Overdose

The lethal dangers of Fentanyl are well-documented, as it has been linked to a continuous rise in overdose fatalities. In 2021 alone, Fentanyl was responsible for 66% of overdose deaths in the US, but people who use drugs claim ingestion is often unintentional.

Studies from the International Journal of Drug Policy found that people who use drugs (mainly Heroin) have no initial intent to use Fentanyl. They also are aware of the risk of overdose with 95% of participants believing that it does increase the likelihood of overdose and death.

However, findings were split between attitudes of avoidance and acceptance regarding what measures to take.

While Ingestion May Be Accidental, Use Of Fentanyl Grows

While most Fentanyl use is still unintentional, people who use drugs are very aware of its overall prevalence. Many people who use drugs claim that Fentanyl has become almost unavoidable due to its wide-spread use and the reluctance of suppliers to disclose its presence.

“You can test just any one substance on the street, and it’ll have fentanyl in it.”

- Study Participant, Journal of the American Pharmacists Association

Many claim to dislike the drugs’ effects, stating that they are too strong or sickening, but say that they don’t have a choice as unaltered drugs are getting harder to find. Due to this, a general acceptance of the drug is starting to permeate communities where drug use is common.

Due to its stronger effects, a tolerance to Fentanyl can quickly grow while simultaneously weakening the effects of other drugs. Thus, as a study in the International Journal of Drug Policy highlights, even accidental ingestion can create a preference for the drug.

In response to the rise of Fentanyl use, people who use drugs have developed their own harm-reduction techniques. These techniques can be broad in nature, such as using the same source to acquire drugs and not ingesting unknown substances while alone. They can also be Fentanyl-specific, such as having Fentanyl test strips available, using less risky methods of consumption, and having Naloxone nearby to combat overdose.

Treatment Is Available

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, Fentanyl use is on the rise. Therefore, it is important for people to be aware of the harmful effects of this dangerous drug.

Addiction to Fentanyl is a serious, life-threatening medical condition and treatment should be provided from a medical professional. To learn more about treatment options available to you, contact a treatment provider today.

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Jessica Sherer

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  • Jessica Sherer earned her B.A. in English from Ashford University and has over eight years of copyediting experience in healthcare education. Dedicated to providing clear and useful information, she hopes her work will help to support those affected by addiction.

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