The Increase in Positive Fentanyl Tests

Fentanyl Basics

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that helps manage severe pain. Clinically, it is prescribed to people who have undergone surgery or have late-stage cancer. In recent years it has been added to street drugs to make them more potent & addictive, cheaper and ultimately more dangerous.

Fentanyl, known in the streets as ‘Apache, Dance Fever, Goodfellas, or Friend, is a potent opioid drug’. It’s 50 times stronger than heroin - and 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Fentanyl can induce feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and of course, pain relief. It can also result in the following:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pupillary constriction
  • Respiratory depression
  • Urinary retention
  • Sedation

Fentanyl powder, which is snorted, sniffed, or smoked, may be mixed with other illegal drugs. Liquid fentanyl, meanwhile, may be masked as eye drops or nasal sprays.

In 2021, 70,601 were due to fentanyl overdoses. According to the CDC, it’s also involved in 75% of heroin-related deaths and 70% of benzodiazepine-linked overdoses. 

The effects of fentanyl are widely seen in its overdose symptoms, which include: 

  • Sleepiness or loss of consciousness
  • Weak, slow, or lack of breathing
  • ‘Pinpoint’ pupils (small, constricted pupils)
  • Cold, clammy, and/or discolored skin (more noticeable in the nails and lips)
  • Gurgling or choking
  • Limpness 

Statistically, about 150 people overdose and die due to synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) every day. 

The Increase in Positive Fentanyl Tests

According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report, there has been a spike in non-prescribed fentanyl use - as seen in urine drug test results. 

In January 2019, only 9.6% of specimens were positive for the said drug. But by the end of the year, the number had climbed to 26.7%. 

The pandemic saw an even steeper increase, with 40.5% of specimens testing positive in late March 2020.

According to research, the upward tick in positive results is due to the following factors:

  1. The unintentional or deliberate addition of fentanyl to cocaine or methamphetamine supply. A small amount of Fentanyl can quickly produce a ‘high,’ thus making it a more economical option for manufacturers.
  2. The user’s opioid tolerance. A person may not be able to recognize that they’re taking too much fentanyl, mainly if they are used to the effects of taking opioids. 
  3. The user’s desire to achieve a speedball effect. Mixing a depressant (fentanyl) with a stimulant (cocaine or meth) can result in an intense yet lethal rush.
  4. Lack of awareness. Some users don’t know how little fentanyl can cause an overdose or how deadly it is to mix cocaine or meth with fentanyl. 

The increase in positive fentanyl tests from 2019 to 2022 has jumped to 149%. The numbers are largely coming from the western states, according to an Addiction Professional report

The mountain regions clocked in an 875% increase in positive results, while the Pacific states registered a whopping 900% spike in rates.


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