Opioid’s ability to freeze chest muscles within minutes may be to blame for some overdoses
© Julia Hiebaum/Alamy Stock Photo
For some people, fentanyl can be a life-saver, easing profound pain. But outside of a doctor’s office, the powerful opioid drug is also a covert killer.
In the last several years, clandestine drugmakers have begun experimenting with this ingredient, baking it into drugs sold on the streets, most notably heroin. Fentanyl and closely related compounds have “literally invaded the entire heroin supply,” says medical toxicologist Lewis Nelson of New York University Langone Medical Center.
Fentanyl is showing up in other drugs, too. In San Francisco’s Bay Area in March, high doses of fentanyl were laced into counterfeit versions of the pain pill Norco. In January, fentanyl was found in illegal pills sold as oxycodone in New Jersey. And in late 2015, fentanyl turned up in fake Xanax pills in California.
This ubiquitous recipe-tinkering makes it impossible for users to know whether they’re about to take drugs mixed with fentanyl. And that