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What Does Fentanyl Look Like?

Fentanyl is a powerful prescription opioid that is used to treat the symptoms of severe pain. This substance is usually only prescribed to individuals who already have a tolerance for less potent opioids like hydrocodone or oxycodone. However, there is an illicit form of fentanyl that has been a main contributor to the opioid overdose crisis.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise with 70,601 overdose deaths reported in 2021.”[1]

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is a type of fentanyl that is created by criminal drug manufacturers. This form of fentanyl is not approved by the FDA, making it virtually impossible to predict how potent one batch is from the next. Even worse, IMF is often used as an adulterant in other drugs like heroin, illicit opioid pills, and even powdered drugs like cocaine.

Being aware of what fentanyl looks like and how to determine if your drugs are laced can prevent you from experiencing a fatal overdose.

Illicit Fentanyl Comes in Many Different Forms

Whether you are worried that your drugs are laced with fentanyl or are concerned that a loved one is addicted to it, it’s important to be aware of what fentanyl looks like. The appearance of fentanyl can vary depending on which form it is in.

Powder

Fentanyl may come as a white powder, which makes it very difficult to determine whether the substance is mixed into another drug. As a result, you should never attempt to determine whether your drugs are laced with fentanyl by simply looking at them. Even further, powdered fentanyl is tasteless and odorless, which means the only way to be sure that your drugs are not laced with the substance is to use a testing strip.

Liquid

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl also comes as a liquid. This liquid can be virtually any color and is often used as a replacement for heroin. In some cases, liquid fentanyl may be sold in eye drops or nasal spray containers.

Pressed Pills

Street fentanyl might also come in a pressed pill. Pressed pills are tablets that are created by criminal drug manufacturers and sold as various types of “prescription” pills. For example, someone could believe they are buying oxycodone pills off the street only to receive a pill that contains fentanyl.

Pressed fentanyl pills can literally come in any color of the rainbow. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration has stated, “Since August 2022, DEA and our law enforcement partners seized brightly-colored fentanyl and fentanyl pills in 26 states.”[2]

How to Determine if Your Drugs Are Laced With Fentanyl

Since fentanyl cannot be detected by sight, taste, smell, or touch, it’s important to be aware of how to determine if your drugs contain it. The only way to ensure that your drugs are not laced with fentanyl is to use a fentanyl testing strip.

There are several ways to use fentanyl testing strips, but all of the techniques involve a small portion of your drugs and water. To determine if your drugs contain fentanyl, take the following steps:[3]

  • If your drugs are not already in powder form, crush them up in a small baggie.
  • Dump out most of the powder and keep a small amount (about 10mg) inside the baggie.
  • Add half a teaspoon of water to your drugs (for stimulants, use 1 teaspoon of water for every 10 mg)
  • Place the testing strip in the water with the wavy side in the water, letting the strip soak for 15 seconds
  • Take the strip out of the water and let it sit on a flat surface for 2 minutes
  • Read the results (1 pink line means your drugs contain fentanyl, while 2 indicates a negative result)

While fentanyl testing strips can prevent you from experiencing a fentanyl overdose, abusing any type of substance is dangerous. As a result, you should always seek help from a professional fentanyl rehab program. During rehab, you can receive the support and tools you need to maintain long-term recovery from any type of substance use disorder.

What Does Pharmaceutical Fentanyl Look Like?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed for pain management, primarily during and after surgery. It is available in various forms which have different appearances, some of which include:

  • Fentanyl Patches – These are transdermal patches that release fentanyl slowly through the skin over a specific period. They are often used for chronic pain management. Brand names for fentanyl patches include Duragesic and Fentanyl Transdermal System.
  • Fentanyl Sublingual Tablets/Lollipops – Fentanyl can be administered through sublingual tablets or lozenges, which are placed under the tongue or in the cheek for rapid absorption. The brand name for this form is Actiq.
  • Fentanyl Nasal Spray – This form of fentanyl is a nasal spray that provides rapid pain relief and is commonly known by the brand name Lazanda.
  • Fentanyl Buccal Tablets – These are small, flat tablets that are placed between the cheek and gum for transmucosal absorption. The brand name for this form is Fentora.
  • Fentanyl Citrate Injection – This form is a clear, colorless liquid that is administered intravenously or intramuscularly. It is used in medical settings such as hospitals and surgical centers for pain management. Brand names include Sublimaze and Fentanyl Citrate.

Finding Help for Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction

If you or a loved one abuse fentanyl, it’s time to seek professional help. Drug rehab programs like South Carolina Addiction Treatment Center can provide you with evidence-based behavioral therapy, holistic treatments, psychological support, and aftercare planning. All of these services combined can provide you with the foundation of recovery you need to maintain long-term sobriety.

To learn more about our fentanyl addiction treatment program, contact South Carolina Addiction Treatment Center today.

References:

  1. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA): Drug Overdose Death Rates, Retrieved July 2023 From https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  2. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): DEA Warns of Brightly-Colored Fentanyl Used to Target Young Americans, Retrieved July 2023 From https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2022/08/30/dea-warns-brightly-colored-fentanyl-used-target-young-americans
  3. The Official Website of the City of New York: How To Test Your Drugs Using Fentanyl Test Strips, Retrieved July 2023 From https://www.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/basas/fentanyl-test-strips-brochure.pdf

Medically Reviewed: November 21, 2023

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

About

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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