Medically Reviewed

Fentanyl Addiction Statistics: Fentanyl Statistics in the U.S.

3 min read · 6 sections
Fentanyl is a dangerous drug that has become a major contributor to the dramatic rise is drug-related overdose deaths.
What you will learn:
Statistics about fentanyl
Overdose facts
How to find treatment for fentanyl addiction

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent, synthetic opioid.1 In its various formulations, pharmaceutical fentanyl is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a procedural anesthetic and analgesic, in addition to being used to treat severe pain after surgery or in other complex pain scenarios.1,2 Additionally, doctors may prescribe fentanyl for cancer patients suffering from chronic pain, who have developed significant opioid tolerance—meaning it takes more of the drug to produce the same effects—to less potent opioids.3

However, many instances of fentanyl misuse involves a supply of the drug that is made illegally, with these illicit sources becoming a major contributor to a dramatic rise in overdose-related deaths.1

Fentanyl Facts and Statistics

Fentanyl was originally introduced more than 60 years ago and most commonly used as an intravenous, peri-operative opioid analgesic.2 In the early 1990s, the fentanyl patch became available to manage severe, chronic pain due to cancer and other serious, painful health conditions.2 Fentanyl continues to be used for pain management for several reasons: It is inexpensive to synthesize, it has a relatively short onset of action and duration of effect, and it can be administered orally, intravenously, or through the skin.2

However, fentanyl is an incredibly powerful opioid—it is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine—and most of the fentanyl-related overdoses aren’t the result of the doctor-prescribed pharmaceutical fentanyl but the illicitly manufactured fentanyl being distributed illegally.4

Illicit fentanyl, which can be lethal even in small doses, is commonly added to other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine because of its potency and cheaper cost, making these fentanyl-laced substances extremely dangerous to the individual who takes them, potentially unknowingly. In fact, more than 150 individuals die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids, like fentanyl.4

In 2022, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized more than 57.9 million fentanyl-laced pills and more than 13,400 pounds of fentanyl powder.5

Fentanyl Misuse Statistics

Fentanyl is highly addictive.3 Like heroin and other opioids, fentanyl use is associated with increased dopamine activity within the brain’s reward circuitry.6 This increased activity serves to reinforce repeated use of fentanyl, ultimately making compulsive use of the drug more likely. Individuals who become addicted to fentanyl may engage in uncontrollable substance use and continue despite the harmful consequences.3

While some may use fentanyl knowingly, many individuals take it unknowingly.3 That’s because, as previously mentioned, fentanyl has become a common additive or adulterant found in other illicit substances, such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA.3

Fentanyl use can be dangerous—increasing the risk of addiction and life-threatening overdose. Some of the statistics surrounding fentanyl use and misuse include:7-9

  • Approximately 539,000 individuals aged 12 or older misused prescription fentanyl in 2021. This number does not include individuals who used illicitly manufactured fentanyl or those who took it (knowingly or not) with another substance like heroin.
  • Nearly 21% of individuals who used prescription fentanyl for any reason in 2021, misused it.
  • Fentanyl-related ER visits accounted for 122,884 of the drug-related emergency department visits in 2021.
  • Fentanyl-related ER visits were highest among individuals aged 26-44.
  • In 2021, almost 40% of all fentanyl-related ER visits came from the West census region. About 66% came from the West and South census regions combined.
  • Monthly analysis found ER visits due to alcohol, methamphetamine, marijuana, and heroin decreasing and fentanyl-related visits increasing in 2021.
  • In 2021, of the 17,692 drug-involved offenses reported to the United States Sentencing Commission, 8.7% of them were drug trafficking offenses that involved fentanyl.
  • Since 2017, fentanyl trafficking offenses have increased 950%.

Fentanyl Overdose

Individuals who use fentanyl—with or without other substances—are at an increased risk of overdose. Overdose occurs when fentanyl produces serious, potentially life-threatening side effects. When an individual overdoses on fentanyl, their breathing can slow or stop, decreasing the amount of oxygen and blood the brain receives, and causing a condition called hypoxia, which can lead to coma, brain damage, or death.3,10

Symptoms of an opioid overdose, including fentanyl overdose, may include:4

  • Small, constricted pupils.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Slow, weak, or no breathing.
  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Bluish lips or nails.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds.
  • Limp body.

Fentanyl (or other opioid) overdose is considered a life-threatening emergency but can be temporarily reversed by administering naloxone, which may be available as a brand name nasal spray called Narcan. The protective effects of naloxone may wear off before overdose risks have completely resolved, so getting the individual medical attention quickly is imperative.11

Naloxone works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors in the brain to block the effects of the opioid drug.4 Emergency personnel and other healthcare professionals may administer it via injection; however, it is becoming increasingly available as a metered nasal spray. Many states allow people to purchase naloxone in over-the-counter form from a pharmacy—without a prescription. Some even have naloxone distribution programs that give it to individuals who use opioids as well as their friends and family at no charge.12

Fentanyl-Related Overdose Death Statistics

As previously mentioned, more than 150 fentanyl-related overdose deaths occur daily due to the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.4

Fentanyl-related overdose death rates are alarming and include the following:12-16

  • Between 2019 and 2020, synthetic opioid-involved deaths—mostly from fentanyl—increased in every state in the country except Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, and Hawaii.
  • In 2021, of the more than 106,000 drug-involved overdoses in the United States, 70,601 involved synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl).
  • Approximately 75% of the heroin-involved overdose deaths in 2021, also involved synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl).
  • More than 30,000 of the 53,495 stimulant-involved deaths in 2021, also involved synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl).
  • From 1999-2021, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids—other than methadone and mostly fentanyl—increased 97-fold.
  • Nearly 70% of all benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths also involved synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl) in 2021.
  • Men make up a higher percentage of opioid-involved overdose deaths than women.
  • From March to August 2021, non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native men aged 15-34 had the highest rates of overdose deaths involving fentanyl.
  • During March to August 2021, Black men in the 35-64 age range had the highest rate of fentanyl-involved overdose deaths.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment Options

To be effective, addiction treatment of any kind should be individualized to meet each person’s specific needs.4 There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

As with other opioid treatments, fentanyl addiction may be treated with a combination of behavioral therapies and medication for addiction treatment. Medications—like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone—may be used to help ease withdrawal symptoms, manage cravings, and block fentanyl’s effects.4

Behavioral interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be effective to help individuals recognize negative thought patterns, triggers, and subsequent unhealthy behaviors, and learn to implement more positive coping skills.4

Overcoming fentanyl addiction is possible. If you or someone you love struggles with fentanyl use, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. Call today to speak to one of our compassionate and knowledgeable admissions navigators, who can answer your questions, explain your options, and get you or your loved one started on their path to recovery.

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