Last updated: August 7, 2021
Lethal doses of heroin and fentanyl
Photo Source: New Hampshire State Police
Many of the fatal opioid overdoses in Anne Arundel County in 2019 have involved fentanyl. The synthetic opioid fentanyl was introduced into medical practice in the 1960s and is prescribed as an anesthetic to treat patients after surgery and to manage acute and chronic pain associated with advanced forms of cancer. By the 1970s, non-pharmaceutical or illicit forms appeared in the United States.
Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl can quickly slow or stop an individual’s breathing rate, resulting in overdose or death. A pinhead size quantity can kill. Some fentanyl sold on the street is combined with heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs creating a “gray death” mixture and increasing its potency and potential dangers. Fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription pain relievers and sedatives. It is very difficult to detect by look, smell or taste. Multiple doses of naloxone are often required to reverse the effect of a fentanyl overdose.
Possible side effects: drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, respiratory depression and arrest, unconsciousness, coma and death.
Sources: Anne Arundel County Police Department; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Maryland Department of Health, Behavioral Health Administration;
National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse