What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

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Fentanyl killed 100,000 people from drug overdoses in 2021. That same year, there were almost 123,000 fentanyl-related emergency department visits. Fentanyl is a significant contributor to the opioid epidemic in the United States. This drug is dangerous and leads to overdose, addiction, and death. It is essential to understand what fentanyl looks like to protect yourself or someone you love.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid made from chemicals manufactured from the opium poppy plant.  Fentanyl and other synthetic drugs are the most commonly involved in overdose deaths. Even in small doses, it can be deadly. Over 150 people die daily from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Fentanyl is often seen in blue, greenish, or lightly colored pills. Additionally, these pills may be marked as “M30” and sometimes as “K9,” “215,” and “v48.” Fentanyl may also be in white powders or even brightly colored pills referred to as rainbow fentanyl. The DEA is warning the public of a new trend in which fentanyl comes in brightly colored pills to look like candy and appeal to kids and young adults.

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How Does Pure Fentanyl Appear?

A significant reason why fentanyl is dangerous is that no identifying factor can allow a person to distinguish fentanyl from other substances. Fentanyl is synthetic, which means there is no pure form of fentanyl. There is pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl created in a laboratory for medicinal purposes, and there is illicitly designed fentanyl in underground labs and cut with unknown substances. Even pharmaceutically produced fentanyl comes in various forms. It can be used as a lollipop, patch, injected, or given as a pill.

Because of the various forms of fentanyl, the only way to accurately identify whether a drug has fentanyl in it is through a fentanyl testing strip.

Fentanyl test strips (FTS) were developed to be an inexpensive, fast, and easy way to identify fentanyl or the presence of fentanyl in other drugs. They are helpful for loved ones, law enforcement, or drug users themselves to identify fentanyl and avoid a possible overdose. It is vital to know that FTS are not 100% accurate and sometimes produce false negatives and positives. Despite their life-saving potential, FTS are considered illegal in many states, as they are considered drug paraphernalia.

Pharmaceutical Fentanyl Is a White Powder

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is identified as a white granular or crystal powder.  Pharmaceutical variations occur as solutions for injection, patches, or lozenges. Illicit forms of fentanyl include a light yellow powder called ‘White Persian’ containing 3-methyl fentanyl and occasionally ‘paper trips’ (thin pieces of cardboard with fentanyl).

Common Colors of Illegally-Produced Fentanyl

As mentioned, there are many different colors of illicitly produced fentanyl, such as blue, greenish, or lightly colored pills. A light yellow powder called ‘White Persian’ is also well-known among drug dealers. Additionally, these pills may be marked as “M30” and sometimes as “K9,” “215,” and “v48.” Fentanyl may also be in white powders or even brightly colored pills referred to as rainbow fentanyl.

Fentanyl May Come In Different Forms

Fentanyl is prescribed to treat severe pain in individuals. Examples include after intensive surgery or when a person is experiencing extreme pain from the late stages of cancer. When prescribed, it can be administered by patch, lozenge, nasal spray, or injection, which is given in the hospital. Fentanyl patches are used for individuals with severe chronic pain.

In the hospital, Fentanyl is most commonly given as an IV injection. The drug can also be given with a patient-controlled pump, where the patient presses a button to deliver a small dose of pain medication through their IV.

Liquid Fentanyl

In liquid form, illegally made fentanyl can be found as a replacement for heroin. There are also reports of fentanyl being packaged as nasal sprays and eye drops. Additionally, liquid fentanyl can be dropped onto paper or small candies.

Fentanyl Pressed Into Pills

One of the most dangerous things about fentanyl is that it can be indistinguishable from other pills or drugs a person may think they are using. Drug dealers are known to press fentanyl into pills that look identical to other medications, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and alprazolam (Xanax), or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall).

People may think they have a typical pain medication or stimulant, but they are ingesting a drug 100x more potent than morphine.

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Fentanyl Cannot Always Be Identified Visually

It is nearly impossible to test or identify what substances are used in underground labs that manufacture fentanyl illegally. This increases the dangers and risks associated with using fentanyl as potency, toxicity, and overdose intensify when using fentanyl illegally.

Commonly Mixed in Other Substances

As previously mentioned, powdered fentanyl looks just like many other drugs. It is most often mixed with drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine and made into pills that resemble other prescription opioids. Fentanyl-laced drugs are not only dangerous but deadly. Illicit drugs do not come with an ingredient list. Most often, they contain a fatal amount of fentanyl.

Substances May Be Mixed With Unrecognizable Small Amounts

Producing illegal fentanyl is not an exact science.  Two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person’s body size, tolerance, and past usage.  DEA analysis has found pills ranging from .02 to 5.1 milligrams (more than twice the lethal dose) of fentanyl per tablet.

  • 42% of pills tested for fentanyl contained at least 2 mg of fentanyl, considered a potentially lethal dose.
  • Drug trafficking organizations typically distribute fentanyl by the kilogram.
  • One kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.

Someone can take a pill without knowing it contains fentanyl. It is also possible to take a pill knowing it has fentanyl but without knowing if it contains a lethal dose.

Increase of Colorful, Rainbow Fentanyl

The Drug Enforcement Administration advises the public of an alarming trend of colorful fentanyl available across the United States.  Since August 2022, the  DEA has seized brightly-colored fentanyl pills in 26 states. These colorful pills are being called “rainbow fentanyl.” This trend appears to be a new method drug cartels use to sell highly addictive and potentially deadly fentanyl made to look like candy to children and young people.

Why Are These Fentanyl-Laced Pills Colored?

Brightly-colored fentanyl is being seized in multiple forms, including pills, powder, and blocks that resembles sidewalk chalk.  Despite claims that specific colors may be more potent than others, there is no indication through DEA’s laboratory testing. Every color, shape, and size of fentanyl should be considered extremely dangerous.

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At Guardian Recovery, we remain dedicated to providing our clients with a comprehensive program of fentanyl detox — one that focuses on much more than physical stabilization. In addition to emphasizing physical recovery, we tackle mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While prioritizing a safe and pain-free cocaine withdrawal, we offer individualgroup, and family therapy sessions, case management services, relapse prevention training, and aftercare planning.

Contact us today if you or your loved one is ready to begin an entirely new way of life and commit to long-term recovery. As soon as you call, we start developing a plan of action that begins with an initial pre-assessment. This assessment helps us determine the most appropriate level of care for each unique case. We identify potential coverage options if our medically monitored detox program is a good fit. We work closely with most major regional and national insurance providers. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation insurance benefit check.

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  1. https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/fentanyl.html#:~:text=What%20is%20fentanyl%3F,pain%2C%20typically%20advanced%20cancer%20pain.&text=It%20is%2050%20to%20100,abuse%20in%20the%20United%20States.
  2. https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2022/08/30/dea-warns-brightly-colored-fentanyl-used-target-young-americans
  3. https://www.cato.org/blog/fentanyl-test-strips-save-lives-yet-most-states-ban-them-drug-paraphernalia
  4. https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/drug-profiles/fentanyl_en#physical
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/fentanyl/
  6. https://www.dea.gov/resources/facts-about-fentanyl

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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