Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that was introduced into medical practice as an intravenous anesthetic under the trade name of Sublimaze in the 1960s. Its use has been steadily increasing over the years. Fentanyl is much more potent than heroin and results in frequent overdoses that can lead to respiratory depression and death. Prescriptions for fentanyl more than doubled from about 2.59 million in 2000 to 7.64 million in 2008.
Drug-related fatalities are now at the top of the accidental-death list in a growing number of states, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The U.S. Department of Justice says the availability of fentanyl is due not only to the increase of legal prescriptions but also because of its availability in other forms. U.S. medics in Afghanistan pack fentanyl lollipops in their kits to administer to critically wounded soldiers in the field because of its rapid and sure effects. Yet other military applications have been deadly. In 2002, the Russian government rushed a theater where 50 armed Chechens were holding almost 800 people hostage in a protest. At least 119 people died from the fentanyl-based gas the army dispersed to defeat the terrorists.
A good deal of the drug is stolen from pharmacies, nursing homes and manufacturers. There is also illegal manufacturing of fentanyl and reports of the drug being imported from Mexico.
There are other illegal methods. In January of 2009, Spokane police arrested a 19-year-old nursing home worker and her boyfriend for allegedly entering patient rooms and taking the pain patches off of patients.
According to the CDC and other sources, fentanyl is abused by the removal of gel from the patches. It is often “cooked” in foil and inhaled or injected. Patches are sometimes frozen, cut into pieces and eaten or placed under the tongue or in the cheek for absorption. Even used patches are attractive to substance misusers as some of the drug remains even after use. There are perhaps hundreds of online sites where one can trade tips and information about the ways to get the most out of the drug in whatever form it is in.