Fentanyl Overdose Facts

Lethal Overdose Amount: Fentanyl vs. Heroin

From the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab:

A lethal dose of fentanyl for an average adult male is 3 milligrams. For an understanding of how small 3 milligrams is in real terms, try the following exercises:

1. Place 2 grains of table salt in the palm of your hand. If it was fentanyl, it would kill you. (Each grain of ordinary table salt weighs about 1.7 milligrams)

2. A single ibuprofen tablet contains 200 milligrams of the active ingredient. Consider the size of an ibuprofen tablet, and compare it to a 3 milligram dose — the 3 milligram tablet would be less than 2% the size of an ibuprofen tablet.

Fentanyl Overdose Death Rates

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provides a central resource for tracking the significant rise in opioid overdose deaths over the past decade. Using data from NIDA, CDC Wonder, and the National Center for Health Statistics, we have pulled together recent trends to highlight the growing role of fentanyl in opioid overdose deaths:

Sources: CDC Wonder, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Center for Health Statistics. Trending data used for 2017 estimate.

So why the relatively sudden and dramatic increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths?

The short answer: it’s all about the economics of the illicit opioid supply chain. As new medical opioid prescribing rules restrict legal access, ongoing opioid demand has turned/returned to black market sources.

Illegal diversion of Rx opioid medications, and heroin supply, are the two primary black market routes. Fentanyl feeds into both of the black market routes by (1) substituting expensive Rx opioids with a lower cost & more powerful/dangerous alternative, and by (2) lacing heroin with fentanyl, thus driving down the supply cost for a long lead time product based on the poppy flower.

Next: Overview of Illegal Fentanyl Production

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