What Is Acetyl Fentanyl?

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It is becoming increasingly rare that someone will not have heard the name fentanyl. With the high numbers of overdose deaths attributed to it, fentanyl quickly rose to the forefront of the opioid crisis. As with many illicitly utilized substances, fentanyl carries a multitude of chemically similar counterparts known as analogs. One such analog is known as Acetyl Fentanyl.

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How Does Acetyl Fentanyl React in the Body?

Like fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl is classified as a synthetic opioid analgesic (1). It binds with the opioid receptors in the brain of the person using, causing an intense high when used in illicit amounts. Similar to other opioid analgesics, they produce a variety of pharmacological effects including alteration in mood, euphoria, drowsiness, respiratory depression, suppression of cough reflex, constriction of pupils (miosis), and impaired gastrointestinal motility.

Is Acetyl Fentanyl More Potent Than Fentanyl?

Contrary to its reputation, acetyl fentanyl is slightly less potent than fentanyl. Acetyl fentanyl is estimated to be 5 to 15 times more potent than heroin. This, in comparison, is far less than the potency of fentanyl which is estimated to be 50 times more potent than heroin. Though it is less potent than fentanyl, it should in no way be considered safe for use as it is responsible for a multitude of overdose deaths since its discovery in 2013. In studies (1) conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the lethal dose of acetyl fentanyl for 50% of the rats tested was 62 milligrams per kilogram of weight compared to the 9.3 milligrams per kilogram of weight that fentanyl took to have the same effect.

How Similar Are Their Chemical Structures?

With strikingly similar chemical makeup, fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl are in the phenylpiperidine

class of synthetic opioids. Acetyl fentanyl contains a phenylacetamide group whereas fentanyl has a phenylpropanamide group at the corresponding position.

Is Acetyl Fentanyl Used Medically?

Acetyl fentanyl has no current recognized medical purposes. Originally, this fentanyl counterpart was designed to have a slight chemical alteration from fentanyl in order to receive a different legal classification while having generally the same effect. The DEA recognized this and in 2015 classified acetyl fentanyl as a Schedule I controlled substance (2). This means that it is legally recognized to be highly addictive, have no medical purpose, and is illegal to manufacture, distribute, and possess in all forms.

Illicit Uses of Acetyl Fentanyl

Since acetyl fentanyl is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, its only uses are for illicit purposes. Though it is not as potent as fentanyl, it is unable to be distinguished as a different substance to the naked eye. Often those who are using will assume that they are purchasing and using fentanyl, but will receive the less potent acetyl fentanyl. It can be utilized in the same ways as fentanyl including snorting, injecting, and smoking. Though it is still available, acetyl fentanyl is less popular due to it requiring the same process as manufacturing fentanyl without the same potency and therefore is not seen as financially beneficial to manufacturers.

Can it Be Used as a Fentanyl Substitute?

Acetyl fentanyl has the same interactions with the brain and body as fentanyl does. Though it is less potent (3), it can be used as a fentanyl substitute, though only for illicit purposes. Since it is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, it has no recognized medical purposes and is illegal for use in medical settings.

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What Are the Side Effects of Using Acetyl Fentanyl?

Due to its interactions with the brain and body being the same as fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl has the same side effects. Though it will take more of the substance to experience these side effects (4), some common ones include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Sedation
  • Problems breathing
  • Unconsciousness

Experiencing these side effects could be an indicator that an overdose is about to occur and medical help should be sought out immediately

Can Acetyl Fentanyl Cause Addiction & Overdoses?

Acetyl fentanyl, like fentanyl, is known to have a high possibility for addiction as well as overdose (5). The DEA classifies acetyl fentanyl as a Schedule I controlled substance meaning that it has no medical benefit and is the highest risk for addiction of all drug classifications.

Fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl both interact with the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for both a euphoric feeling as well as the communicating to the brain a strong desire to repeat a behavior. As these substances are ingested, extreme amounts of dopamine are released into the brain. During a natural release of dopamine, the brain will quickly absorb the dopamine that has been released and recycle it for later use. Opioids, like acetyl fentanyl, will block the absorption process causing extreme and unnatural amounts of dopamine to be released into the brain. The high amount of desire to repeat the drug seeking behavior caused by the dopamine release is a key component to causing the addictive cycle of use.

Naloxone for Respiratory Depression From Acetyl Fentanyl

Naloxone, or Narcan, is a helpful tool (6) in preventing overdose from opioids like acetyl fentanyl. It binds to and blocks the opioid receptors from interaction with these overdose causing substances. This causes the body temporary relief from the effects of the drugs that have been ingested that can include lung and heart depression.

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Treatment for Acetyl Fentanyl Addiction

Like other opioids, a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to have the highest impact in the recovery of individuals experiencing a substance use disorder. If you or someone you know finds themself in this situation, call Guardian Recovery today. Our admission professionals are available right now to provide you with a clear path toward your recovery goals. They are even able to provide a free insurance check with no obligation to you. The journey to freedom starts with a single step, and you can take that step right now by calling Guardian Recovery.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/acetylfentanyl.pdf
  2. https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/FR-2015-05-21/2015-12331
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11419-007-0039-1
  4. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/fentanyl
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6234a5.htm
  6. https://www.stopoverdoseil.org/narcan#:~:text=Naloxone%20works%20by%20binding%20to%20the%20opioid%20receptors,opiates%20off%20the%20receptors%2C%20thus%20reversing%20their%20effects

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


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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