What Is Fentanyl Made From?

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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.

Because fentanyl is synthetically made, it does not naturally come from the opium poppy plant like heroin, making it more dangerous than heroin. Because there is no general idea of how it is produced or what chemicals are added, it increases the risks, and the side effects can be deadly. According to the CDC, Fentanyl is 50x more potent than heroin and 100x stronger than morphine.

Additionally, Fentanyl deaths are on the rise. 100,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2021, and fentanyl was responsible for more than 60%. That same year, there were almost 123,000 fentanyl-related emergency department visits. Those numbers reveal a significant increase over the past several years.

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Fentanyl Production & the Poppy Plant

Synthetic opioids are substances manufactured in a laboratory that act similarly in the brain as natural opioids, like morphine, to relieve pain. In contrast, natural opioids are naturally occurring substances extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. Some synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and methadone, have been approved for medical use.

Illegally produced synthetic opioids structurally related to the pharmaceutical fentanyl were trafficked and abused in the late 1970s and 1980s. In the 1980s, DEA controlled several illicitly produced synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

As of 2013, there has been an increase in the trafficking and abuse of various illegally produced synthetic opioids, including several substances related to fentanyl.

The Production of Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioid drugs are a class or type of opiate made entirely of chemical components in a laboratory. These synthetic narcotics are classified as opiate drugs because they have similar chemical structures to natural and semi-synthetic opioids and elicit the same effects.

Some of these synthetic opiates are legal prescription drugs. Medical professionals use them extensively as pain relievers, often during the advancement of terminal cancer. Fentanyl contains some of the most potent opioids ever produced or found, as the potency of fentanyl is up to one hundred times that of morphine and tramadol.

What Is the Process Laboratories Use to Synthesize Fentanyl?

There are a few different processes laboratories use to synthesize fentanyl. Janssen and Gardocki developed the first synthesis method of fentanyl in 1964. This method requires advanced skills in organic chemistry. Other methods, developed by Siegfried and Gupta, are more commonly used in underground laboratories. The Siegfried method is based on an internet recipe.

The Gupta method is called the ‘One-Pot method’ because the synthesis is carried out in a single container. Compared to other illegal drugs, there is not much literature available on the chemical compounds of fentanyl. It is typically dosed at relatively low levels as an additive to highly addictive drugs such as heroin. This makes testing purity levels of fentanyl very challenging.

It is difficult to find traces of the chemical used because of safety and security reasons. Under such circumstances, individuals who produce fentanyl in labs can provide specific information as exposed individuals can find traces of chemical compounds in human tissue for extended periods, depending on the nature of the chemical agent.

The Chemical Structure of Fentanyl

Fentanyl and its variants (Alfentanil, Sufentanil, Remifentanil, and Carfentanil) are used as anesthetics and pain relievers in medicine. They are subject to international control, as are highly potent non-pharmaceutical fentanyl variations, such as 3-methyl fentanyl, synthesized illicitly and sold as ‘synthetic heroin’ or mixed with heroin.

Fentanyl is chemically identified as  (CAS-437-38-7). The fully systematic name is N-(1-(2-phenethyl)-4-piperidinyl-N-phenyl-propanamide.

The pharmaceutical industry has developed different fentanyl variations by adding substitutes to the primary molecule to modify potency. Chemists in underground laboratories have recreated this approach to produce illegal non-pharmaceutical fentanyl by-products.

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Does Illegally Manufactured Fentanyl Contain the Same Chemicals?

Yes, illicitly manufactured fentanyl and pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl contain the same chemicals or similar components of the primary chemical structure. However, the main difference with illegally produced fentanyl is that several other chemicals or substances may be added. There may not be consistency or purity testing to indicate how chemically pure the substances are when manufactured. As previously mentioned, 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.

Where Do the Chemicals Required for Fentanyl Come From?

It has been reported that a large amount of fentanyl and chemicals required to produce fentanyl comes from China. Chinese vendors have used the internet to market fentanyl and the primary chemicals used to make fentanyl and ship them directly to customers in the U.S., Europe, and Mexican cartels.

Some of the chemicals are outlawed in China and internationally. Others are so new they have yet to be banned and are harder to detect and regulate.

Chinese merchants have found ways to secretly ship out fentanyl and chemicals by using smaller cities with less supervision and law enforcement in place. Vendors successfully ship out thousands of individual doses by strategically finding shipping locations in smaller populated towns.

In November 2018, Chinese police seized more than pounds of fentanyl and 42 pounds of other drugs from the lab. They sentenced nine people from Xingtai in a significant drug bust a year later.

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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.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/index.html
  3. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Synthetic%20Opioids-2020.pdf
  4. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/fentanyl
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468170921000266
  6. https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/drug-profiles/fentanyl_en
  7. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/DEA_GOV_DIR-008-20%20Fentanyl%20Flow%20in%20the%20United%20States_0.pdf
  8. https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2018/01/05/china-announces-scheduling-controls-two-fentanyl-precursor-chemicals
  9. https://www.npr.org/2019/11/07/777173066/china-jails-9-in-fentanyl-trafficking-case-that-began-with-a-u-s-tip

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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.

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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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