Illicit fentanyl may look like a clear liquid or a powder that could be either light-brown or off-white. When fentanyl is mixed with other drugs, it can be difficult to identify.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that treats severe pain. Like other opioids, it provides pain relief by attaching to your body’s opioid receptors.
When used in a manner not prescribed by a doctor, fentanyl poses a high risk of overdose and addiction. If you suspect that someone you love is misusing this drug, it’s important to know what it looks like.
Fentanyl comes in various forms. The forms fall under two categories: illicit fentanyl and prescription fentanyl.
Some people illegally make fentanyl and sell it on the street. Illicit fentanyl usually takes the form of a clear liquid or a powder that ranges in color from off-white to light brown.
The liquid is often added to nasal sprays, eye drops, blotter paper (to be dissolved on the tongue), or candies. The powder is typically snorted or smoked.
Mixing Fentanyl With Other Drugs
Many drug dealers mix fentanyl powder with powder forms of other illicit drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.
They then sell these illicit drugs without telling buyers they’ve added fentanyl. They do this to give the buyer a more intense high or to cut production costs (as fentanyl is very cheap).
It’s difficult to tell if a powder drug contains fentanyl. In some cases, though, fentanyl creates brown patches in cocaine or methamphetamine powder, which is normally pure white.
Passing Fentanyl As Other Drugs
Along with selling fentanyl-laced powder, some drug dealers create fentanyl pills and pass them off as other pills, such as:
- benzodiazepines, like alprazolam (Xanax) or clonazepam (Klonopin)
- stimulants, like amphetamine (Adderall) or methylphenidate (Ritalin)
- other prescription opioids, like oxycodone (OxyContin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Dealers try to make fentanyl pills look exactly like these other pills (though they may vary slightly in color and imprints). Thus, if you buy pills off the street, you may unknowingly ingest fentanyl and overdose.
Health care providers prescribe the following types of fentanyl:
- Abstral, a white tablet that dissolves under the tongue
- Actiq, a white lozenge attached to a handle (resembling a lollipop)
- Duragesic, a transdermal patch (a patch that’s applied to the skin)
- Fentora, a white tablet the dissolves in the mouth
- Lazanda, a nasal spray
- Onsolis, a film that dissolves in the mouth
- Sublimaze, an injectable solution
- Subsys, a spray applied under the tongue
Since fentanyl is extremely potent, you should only use it as prescribed. Some people abuse fentanyl by:
- using higher doses than prescribed
- using it more frequently than prescribed
- using it without a prescription
- crushing fentanyl pills and snorting them
If they don’t already have a prescription for it, they may steal the drug from loved ones or buy it off the street. No matter how they get it, people who abuse prescription fentanyl face a high risk of overdose and addiction.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl has been involved in numerous drug overdose deaths. Common signs of a fentanyl overdose include:
- difficulty breathing
- smaller pupils
- loss of consciousness
Call 911 if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms. When left untreated, a fentanyl overdose can be fatal. In most cases, first responders treat fentanyl overdoses with naloxone (Narcan). This medication can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
People who use fentanyl or love someone who does should keep naloxone on hand in case of emergencies. You can get naloxone without a prescription at most pharmacies.
Even if they don’t overdose, people who abuse fentanyl face a high risk of addiction. Common signs of fentanyl addiction include:
- feeling unable to stop using fentanyl despite negative consequences
- doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions of fentanyl)
- withdrawing from friends and family members
- tolerance (needing increasingly larger amounts of fentanyl to feel the desired effects)
- physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and anxiety when you don’t use fentanyl)
Like all forms of opioid addiction, fentanyl addiction is a serious disease that usually requires professional treatment.
If you or a loved one struggles with fentanyl, please reach out to a Recovering Champions specialist. Our substance abuse and addiction treatment options include mental health counseling, support groups, and more.