Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid with a high overdose rate. Understanding how to identify fentanyl in other illicit drugs can help prevent misuse and overdose.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, and it is becoming increasingly common to find it laced in other illicit drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are now the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the United States. Due to this, people who purchase illicit drugs might wonder if they can identify fentanyl by its look, smell or taste. Understanding what fentanyl is, how it is taken and how to identify it can help prevent fentanyl abuse and overdose. 

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic (manmade) opioid that is extremely potent and up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It comes in two forms: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Doctors typically prescribe pharmaceutical fentanyl in hospital settings to treat severe, chronic pain from cancer or surgery. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl can be sold on its own, mixed into other drugs like heroin, or made into pills to mimic the appearance of other opioids. It is common for a drug to be laced with fentanyl without the user knowing, increasing the chance of accidental overdose. 

What Does Fentanyl Taste Like?

You might be wondering, how can I tell if a drug is laced with fentanyl? Does fentanyl taste sweet? The truth is, the only way to tell if drugs contain fentanyl is by testing the drugs with fentanyl test strips. Fentanyl has no distinct taste, so illicit drugs can contain fatal levels of fentanyl without the person knowing.

What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl can come in the form of powder, liquid or tablet form. Powdered fentanyl looks similar to other drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. It is often mixed with these drugs and made into pills to mimic the appearance of prescription opioids. Because of this, many people can take these pills and not know that fentanyl is in it. In its liquid form, illicitly manufactured fentanyl can be mixed into eye drops and nasal sprays. 

What Color is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl resembles many other drugs, and it is commonly made to mimic the appearance of prescription opioids. While it is most commonly white, fentanyl can also be purple, pink, blue and green.

What Form Does Fentanyl Come In?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is available in various forms, including oral lozenges, buccal tablets, throat sprays, nasal sprays, patches and injections. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl typically comes in powder or tablet form. It can be sold on its own, in the form of counterfeit pills, or mixed into other drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

What Does Fentanyl Smell Like?

A person can not determine if an illicit drug contains fentanyl by its smell. Fentanyl has no distinct scent. The only way to tell if drugs contain fentanyl is by testing the drugs with fentanyl test strips

How Is Fentanyl Taken?

The illegal use of fentanyl is extremely dangerous and most associated with overdose deaths. However, prescribed fentanyl can also be abused. Understanding the different ways fentanyl is taken can help you spot abuse and prevent overdose.  

Fentanyl comes in various forms and be taken in different ways:

  • Fentanyl patches: the most common way to take prescribed fentanyl. It is applied to the skin for severe, chronic pain. When abused, someone might remove its gel contents and inject it. They might also cut the patches and place them under the tongue or in the cheek cavity. 
  • Sublingual spray: another kind of prescribed fentanyl that is sprayed under the tongue. It is given to treat chronic pain from cancer. 
  • Buccal tablets: a form of fentanyl that is prescribed. The tablet is dissolved by placing it between the cheek and gum or under the tongue. 
  • Lozenges or lollipops: a lozenge that is attached to a plastic handle, giving it the appearance of a lollipop. It is placed between the cheek and gum, and the handle can be twirled to spread the medicine around the mouth. 
  • Nasal spray: fentanyl can be prescribed as a nasal spray to treat cancer pain. It is sprayed once into each nostril. 
  • Fentanyl injections: fentanyl is sometimes injected in a hospital setting as medication before surgery. 
  • Illicitly manufactured fentanyl: comes in powder, liquid, or tablet form. It can be snorted, smoked, injected, or swallowed when in the form of a counterfeit pill.

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction & Abuse 

Fentanyl is very addictive due to its potency. It also causes severe flu-like withdrawal symptoms that might lead someone to seek out more fentanyl. Symptoms include cravings, muscle and bone pain, involuntary leg movements, cold flashes, diarrhea and vomiting. In addition to exhibiting these withdrawal symptoms, signs that a person might be abusing fentanyl include

  • Weight loss or weight gain 
  • Wearing long sleeves or hiding arms 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Isolation and secret behavior 
  • Stealing 

Find Fentanyl Addiction Treatment in South Jersey 

If you or a loved one are using drugs that contain fentanyl, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. Our facilities offer medical detox and medication-assisted treatment that alleviate withdrawal symptoms so that you can focus on recovery. We also provide specialized inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare treatment programs for your individual needs. Contact us today to take the first step towards recovery. 

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Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fentanyl Facts.” February 23, 2022. Accessed August 28, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is Fentanyl?” June 2021. Accessed August 29, 2022.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “Prevention of Occupational Exposure to F[…]yl and Other Opioids.” July 2018. Accessed August 28, 2022.

New York State Department of Health. “Opioids: Recognizing the Signs.” December 2017. Accessed August 28, 2022.

Drugs.com “Fentanyl.” August 18, 2022. Accessed August 28, 2022.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse A DEA Resource Guide: 2020 Edition.” Accessed August 28, 2022.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “Fentanyl.” April 2020. Accessed August 28, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.