The Reality. Fentanyl can be produced anywhere a small lab can be set up – a private warehouse in an industrial park, a residential home, or a clandestine lab in rural areas. It can be synthesized as long as there is access to the required precursor chemicals, which are almost exclusively sold by chemical companies in China.
Fentanyl is also relatively inexpensive to produce — the DEA estimates it costs about $3,300 to produce 1 kilogram of pure fentanyl. A kilogram can be pressed into at least 500,000 counterfeit pills, which implies a street market value of $10 Million, assuming $20 a pill as an average street price.
Any product with a 99.9% gross margin provides a strong profit incentive to evade laws and drug safety standards.
Illegal drug operations are not structured to have high quality control standards. This means a significant degree of danger for anyone who chooses to obtain opioid products from illicit sources. A small mistake of pressing 5 milligrams of fentanyl into a single pill is a death sentence for the person using counterfeit medications.
Common Counterfeit Opioid Medications (might contain fentanyl)
Fentanyl is also mixed into heroin, as a low cost and potent additive. More recently, fentanyl is showing up in cocaine as well, greatly increasing the risk of accidental overdose deaths among cocaine users.
Carfentanil: A Chemical Weapon?
Carfentanil is a much stronger analog to fentanyl. Developed as a large animal (think elephants) tranquilizer in 1974, carfentanil has begun showing up in the illicit opioid supply chain.
Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl. A 0.03 milligram dose can kill a human adult.
Carfentanil and other fentanyl analogs (see below) can reasonably be viewed as chemical weapons, or agents of pharmacoterrorism (an actual word in 2017).
Stricter regulations on fentanyl chemical precursors, and enhanced cooperation between supplier and consumer countries will help some, but citizens will need to take responsibility for educating themselves and their loved ones on the dangers of fentanyl and other opioid substances.
Carfentanil and Other Fentanyl Analogs