Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, a narcotic that is similar to organic opiates but originates in a lab. It is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it has accepted medical uses for treating severe pain but also has a high potential for abuse.
People in possession of a relatively small amount of fentanyl can face charges of trafficking or distribution when the same amount of other drugs, even narcotics, would result in simple possession charges. There are several reasons why possessing even small amounts of fentanyl can get a person into big trouble.
Fentanyl is extremely potent
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. Heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance with no accepted medical uses.
Fentanyl frequently causes overdoses
Because fentanyl is so potent, relatively small amounts can cause an overdose. Fentanyl is responsible for approximately 150 overdose deaths a day in the United States.
Fentanyl shows up in other preparations
There is pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. While diversion of the former for illicit purposes does occur, illicitly manufactured fentanyl is more likely to cause overdose deaths because of the common practice of using it to cut other drugs.
It is difficult to tell whether a drug contains fentanyl without the use of special test strips. If authorities test drugs and find that they contain fentanyl, the person from whom they confiscated the drugs could face greater penalties whether he or she was aware that the drugs contained fentanyl or not.