Fentanyl Now the Leading Cause of Overdose Deaths in the U.S.

fentanyl powder

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) have become the leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S.1,2 Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 10 times more powerful than heroin and 50 times more powerful than morphine. It is used in medical settings to treat patients with severe pain but in 2012, it emerged on the illicit drug market and has since become very popular with drug users and drug dealers alike.3

According to one report from the New York Times, drug overdoses killed 64,000 people in the United States last year, a much higher total than the 52,404 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2015. Additionally, drug deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016.4

Unfortunately, since synthetic opioids like fentanyl are cheap to make and extremely profitable to sell, illicit drug producers and dealers aren’t likely to stop selling them anytime soon.

The High Risk of Deadly Drug Cocktails

Deadly drug cocktails such as fentanyl-laced heroin or cocaine are extremely dangerous and further increase the risk of drug overdose deaths in users. In a recent report from USA Today, scientists in Nashville and Knoxville recently detected fentanyl mixed in with three different samples of cocaine.5

This is significant because although fentanyl has commonly been mixed with heroin and other opioids, cocaine is considered a “party drug” which has the potential to claim the lives of many more drug abusers who are just looking for a good time. It only takes one milligram of fentanyl to get someone high, and two to three milligrams to kill them.

Fentanyl can also be absorbed through the skin, so even just touching the substance could cause an overdose. Although not all blends of cocaine and Fentanyl are fatal, they are all highly addictive and could lead more individuals down a dangerous path of drug abuse.

What Happens During a Fentanyl Overdose?

When used, fentanyl works by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors. These receptors are responsible for controlling pain and emotions. When this happens, the brain is suddenly flooded with dopamine, creating a state of extreme euphoria and relaxation. Some opioid receptors also control a person’s breathing rate, so if a high dosage of fentanyl is taken, breathing may stop completely and result in immediate death.6

According to Live Science, individuals who have experienced a fentanyl overdose say the effects happen very quickly, typically occurring within seconds to minutes of the drug being taken. Overdoses most often occur when fentanyl is injected rather than snorted, although snorting fentanyl is by no means any safer. Common characteristics of a fentanyl overdose include:7

  • Bluish lips
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Stiffening of the body
  • Confusion
  • Seizure
  • Complete unresponsiveness

Treatment for Cocaine and Fentanyl Addiction

Although cocaine and fentanyl are both highly addictive, it is possible to overcome an addiction to them. If you or a loved one is addicted to cocaine, fentanyl, or both substances, medically assisted drug detox is the first step in a comprehensive drug addiction program that will help you achieve and maintain a drug-free lifestyle.

Drug and alcohol detox is the process by which the body rids itself of the harmful substances found in drugs and alcohol. This process also involves withdrawal, which is typically characterized by uncomfortable physical symptoms such as nausea, sweating, body aches, anxiety, and agitation.

Fortunately, medically assisted detox provides round-the-clock medical monitoring and treatment for these uncomfortable symptoms, so you can complete your detox program without giving in to cravings as a means to reduce or eliminate your physical symptoms. At Briarwood, our staff is trained to recognize and treat withdrawal symptoms associated with cocaine and synthetic drugs like fentanyl, so you never have to worry about your comfort or safety.

Our detox center also provides each client with a multidisciplinary treatment team who will design and adjust an individualized drug detox program based on the client’s needs and circumstances. Once the drug detox program is completed, we will provide a professional recommendation for ongoing addiction treatment. This next step is equally as important, as it will help address the underlying causes of the addiction, provide essential coping skills and strategies to remain sober, and provide time for clients to remain sober in a safe, supportive environment before returning home.

If you’re addicted to fentanyl, cocaine, or some other addictive substance, we can help. Please contact our admissions team today to learn more about our medically assisted detox programs at Briarwood.



  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm
  2. https://www.buzzfeed.com/danvergano/fentanyl-leading-overdoses?utm_term=.ps6B9MBjq#.muMzD0zL3
  3. https://www.buzzfeed.com/danvergano/fentanyl-by-the-numbers?utm_term=.fvbmdgRWxe#.ykpXv16eGd
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/02/upshot/fentanyl-drug-overdose-deaths.html
  5. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/10/20/why-cocaine-cut-fentanyl-changes-game/786295001/
  6. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  7. https://www.livescience.com/58682-fentanyl-overdose-characteristics.html

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