Table of Contents
- Lethal Dose of Fentanyl
- What is Fentanyl?
- Effects of fentanyl
- Why is fentanyl so deadly?
- How Much Fentanyl is Lethal?
Lethal Dose of Fentanyl
The lethality of a dosage of fentanyl is dependent on a variety of physical and genetic factors unique to each individual, and is therefore difficult to determine. However, research has revealed how much fentanyl is lethal and researchers say that 2 milligrams – the approximate size of four granules of sand – is a potentially lethal amount of fentanyl (has the ability to kill an average person).
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is used to enhance sedation during surgery, to manage moderate to severe pain pre- and post-op, and in patients suffering from terminal illnesses. Due to its legitimate medical use, it is listed as a Schedule II drug by the DEA. When in its licit prescription form, it is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze ; on the street, it is referred to as Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfellas, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, Tango, and Cash . The calm, euphoria, and pain relief which fentanyl can induce render it highly addictive – even for those with no history of substance use or dependence.
Effects of Fentanyl
Fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opiate receptors (concentrated in areas of the brain responsible for pain and emotion) and interfering with the body’s system of pain signals. It has a variety of physical and mental effects on its users, including:
- Increased tolerance
- Pain relief
- Urinary retention
- Constricted pupils
- Respiratory depression
- Loss of consciousness
- Death (in extreme cases) 
As noted, when taken in a large-enough dosage, fentanyl can lead to cardiac and respiratory arrest, with fatal consequences. Fentanyl was involved in 59.8% of all opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017 alone, and the number keeps growing .
Why is Fentanyl So Deadly?
Although fentanyl began as a legal and practical analgesic, it spread rapidly to the street and devolved into a highly abused recreational drug. Fentanyl is especially lethal because of its extreme potency, even in tiny amounts – which is exactly what contributed to its wild popularity in drug-dealing circles. Another factor which has made the risk of fentanyl overdose so much greater is the widespread practice of cutting/lacing other common drugs with fentanyl. Drug dealers cut pure drugs with fentanyl because fentanyl is powerful, cheap, and incredibly easy to procure or produce. This increases profit margins for the drug dealer, and easily gives a greater high to the drug user. The gargantuan issue is that all too often, dealers clandestinely lace their wares with fentanyl and intentionally do not inform consumers so as to be able to charge the full market price for their product. Users will ingest the drug in dosages they are accustomed to, easily surpassing the fentanyl lethal dose, often with tragic consequences.
How Much Fentanyl is Lethal?
It is hard to clearly define just how much fentanyl can kill you, since it depends heavily on a number of variables – such as gender, body size, body mass index, tolerance level, and history of use. However, as mentioned before, we know that fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. This translates into a frightening reality regarding how much fentanyl will kill: A mere two milligrams of fentanyl – the size of four grains of sand – is an amount that can kill a human. Drug trafficking organizations/cartels generally sell fentanyl by the kilogram – and one kilogram is sufficient to kill five hundred thousand people .
Additionally, the prevalence of illicit fentanyl pills (made to look like legitimate prescription pills) has contributed greatly to the number of overdose deaths in recent years. Because these pills are illegally produced, there is no regulation, oversight, or quality control whatsoever. When taking a fentanyl pill, there is virtually no way to ascertain the drug purity, concentration level, or dosage. The Drug Enforcement Administration studied a wide range of fentanyl pills and discovered that they can contain anywhere between .02 to 5.1 milligrams of fentanyl – the latter which is more than twice the lethal dose. Nearly half of the pills tested contained a minimum of 2 milligrams of fentanyl, considered a potentially fatal amount.
The below picture clearly and graphically displays how and why fentanyl is so much deadlier than other drugs. To the left is a lethal dose of heroin; to the right, a lethal dose of fentanyl .
The ramifications of this untenable situation are felt each day. This opioid epidemic does not discriminate; members of every race, ethnicity and age group are constantly falling prey to its clutches. Specifically, many adolescents and young adults begin experimenting with what they are told are relatively low-impact drugs and end up ingesting fentanyl – with disastrous consequences. Their tender youth, lack of substance use history and resulting low tolerance level render them vulnerable to any drug, and all the more so to the tiniest amount of the monster drug fentanyl.
Nineteen-year-old JJ Niederman of Camden County, New Jersey died on February 12th of 2021 of fentanyl overdose, after taking what he believed was pure cocaine. Upon further research, it was discovered that what he took was actually almost all fentanyl; the dosage found in his body would have been sufficient to kill 30 people. As his mother Tanya shared: “In my eyes, he was murdered. I’ve come to grips with the fact that my son chose to take cocaine, but he did not choose to die. That was not a choice he made that night.”
Another victim of fentanyl overdose was Zachary Didier, 17-year-old resident of Placer County, California. Zachary died on December 27th, 2020, from ingesting an allegedly pure Percocet pill – which turned out to contain fentanyl. His mother Lauren revealed that his death came as a complete and total shock to the family, since Zachary was a model son, student and friend who displayed none of the usual red flags which accompany substance abuse. “He thought he was experimenting with a relatively harmless drug and didn’t even think to let us know – he thought there was really no cause for concern. How could he have known it would become the last choice he would ever make?” 
Fentanyl overdose is a real and grave phenomenon which upends lives and families. If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl addiction, or any substance use disorder at all, know that hope and healing are always possible. Reach out to Avenues Recovery Center today to discover how we can help you and start you on your journey home.