Fentanyl

What is Fentanyl?

image of fentanyl next to heroin to show potency

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Therefore, overdoses happen faster and are harder to stop. It comes in pills, pure powders, and powder mixed with other drugs. It cannot be seen, tasted or smelled when mixed into other drugs.

“To save lives, we must raise awareness about the lethal effects of fentanyl while promoting strategies to reduce harm and mitigate risk. People who use illicit drugs in Denver are at a higher risk for fatal overdose than ever before. Opioid overdose deaths are preventable, and treatment for opioid use disorder is available.”
- Robert McDonald, DDPHE Executive Director and Public Health Administrator for the city of Denver


Be careful!

It is important for people who use drugs to know there are ways to reduce their likelihood of overdose:

  • Don’t use drugs alone. But if you do, let someone know you’re using, so they can check-in.
  • Fentanyl kills quickly, Naloxone can save a life. Always carry naloxone or make sure those around you do. Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose.
  • Avoid mixing drugs: mixing opioids with alcohol and/or benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin) increases overdose risk.
  • Test the potency of your drugs. This harm-reduction technique encourages you to use less than your normal dose to test potency and strength. This could mean injecting or snorting a smaller amount, or breaking off a piece of a pill.
  • If you think it’s an overdose, call 911. Every minute counts.

The presence of fentanyl has led to epidemic levels of overdoses in other parts of the country, including New York City. According to NYC Health, fentanyl was the most common drug involved in overdose deaths at 57% in 2017, with no sign of decreasing. 

Denver experienced 209 drug-related deaths in 2018, and as of September 2019, we have endured 77 drug-related deathsThe majority of drug-overdose deaths in Denver involve multiple substances: 64% of drug- related deaths involved three or more drugs in the deceased’s system and 28% involved five or more drugs.

Opioids include strong prescription pain relievers, such as:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Addiction is a disease. Recovery is possible and available.

Actions outlined in Denver’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan focus on preventing substance misuse, improving treatment access and retention, and reducing harm. By concentrating on prevention, removing barriers to essential support services, and making treatment more readily available, we can reduce unnecessary deaths and the impacts of opioid addiction on our community.