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Substance misuse prevention is a Douglas County Health Department priority. The misuse of prescription or illegally-made opioids is increasing in Colorado, sometimes resulting in overdose. Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid that can lead to fatal and non-fatal overdose. Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroine and 100 times more powerful than morphine. It can be deadly even if taken in small doses.

Learn more about the risks associated with fentanyl use as well as resources to prevent overdose.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid produced by pharmaceutical companies (medication manufacturers). Pharmaceutical fentanyl is approved for treating severe or chronic pain and is prescribed by doctors.

Fentanyl can also be made illegally and sold through illegal drug markets. Illegally produced fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs. This form of fentanyl is connected with overdose and deaths in the US.

Why is fentanyl so dangerous?

Fentanyl, along with other opioids such as heroin and morphine, bind to receptors in the brain. After repeated opioid use, the brain adapts to the drug, so users require more drug to experience the same effects. This may result in addiction. If the drug use is stopped, withdrawal symptoms can be severe.

A tiny dose of fentanyl, as small as 3 grains of salt, can be fatal depending on a person’s previous exposure to opioids. Because fentanyl is so powerful, overdose can occur when a person doesn’t know the dose they are taking. Medicines ordered online or obtained outside of a licensed pharmacy may be counterfeit and could contain fentanyl. Fentanyl may be added to other illegal drugs, so users may not know they are taking a substance that contains fentanyl. Fentanyl cannot be identified through sight, smell or taste. Pills with fentanyl may look like regular prescription pills or be brightly colored like candy.

How do people use fentanyl?

Prescription fentanyl used for pain management can be given as a shot, applied through a skin patch, or consumed as a lozenges similar to a cough drop.

Illegally produced fentanyl, which is most often connected with overdose, is made in labs. It is sold illegally as a powder, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids. Fentanyl can also be smoked, vaped, injected, or taken as a suppository.

How can I get help for a loved one who is addicted to or using fentanyl?

Find a treatment facility near you at FindTreatment.gov or call 800-662-HELP (4357). This national helpline is free, confidential, and available 24/7.

If you are struggling with opioid addiction (heroin or pain relievers), you can:

The Douglas County Mental Health Initiative has an extensive list of resources for substance use disorder treatment, withdrawal management and more.

What are the signs of an overdose on fentanyl or other opioids?

Signs of an overdose may include:

  • Falling asleep or losing consciousness
  • Slow, weak, or no breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Cold, clammy, and/or discolored skin
  • Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”

If you see these signs, call 911 immediately and administer naloxone if available.

What should I do if someone near me is overdosing on an opioid?

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse opioid overdose and save lives. Naloxone is administered through a nose spray or injection. It is effective at reversing opioid overdose of fentanyl, heroin, morphine, oxycodone, and codeine.

In Colorado, you can purchase naloxone at pharmacies without a prescription. You can also request naloxone and fentanyl test strips directly from the Douglas County Health Department by completing an online request form.

If you think someone may have overdosed on an opioid, take action!

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Administer naloxone if it is available.
  • Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  • Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  • Stay with them until emergency workers arrive.

Is fentanyl in Douglas County?

Yes, fentanyl is in Douglas County. Law enforcement agencies have identified fentanyl, and it has also been implicated in overdoses in Douglas County. Learn more about fentanyl and other opioid overdoses in Colorado at CDPHE’s Drug Overdose Dashboard.

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine is a veterinary tranquilizer that may be added to fentanyl or other illicit opioids. Xylazine is added to other drugs to make the effects of opioids last longer. It is not approved for use in humans. Learn more about Xylazine and its prevalence in Colorado from CDPHE.

Should emergency responders be worried about exposure to fentanyl at work?

The risk to first responders developing toxicity or illness due to contact with opioids is minimal. Standard medical gloves and uniforms provide adequate protection from opioid exposure through the skin. Learn more from a Fentanyl & First Responder Safety White Paper and WTFentanyl.

How can I learn more about fentanyl?

Learn more about fentanyl: