The Terrifying Family of Fentanyl Drugs

You’ve probably heard of fentanyl, the drug that has caused so many overdoses deaths, especially in the Midwest, Great Lakes States and Northeast. What most people don’t know is that this drug is actually part of a huge family of related drugs. These are referred to as analogues of fentanyl. In other words, they are chemically similar. They could be derived from fentanyl or simply be similar in composition.

Just moving a molecule from one attachment point to another or adding a molecule or group of molecules will change a substance from one type of fentanyl to another. Every analogue will have slightly different effects from other substances in the group. One will last longer and another will take effect more quickly. Another might have more undesirable side effects. One report for forensic scientists in Poland noted that there are more than 1400 analogues of fentanyl. Not many of these have been tested on humans.

This image of some of the chemical formulas allows you to see just how similar many of them are.

Diagrams of fentanyl and analogues.

Fentanyl is Essentially Identical in Effect to Heroin

Because the action of fentanyl is indistinguishable from the effects of heroin, it is popular with illicit drug traffickers. It first showed up in U.S. drug supplies in the 1970s. The Drug Enforcement Administration would learn what drugs were being introduced to the market and help get legislation passed to ban the substance and its use might decline for a while.

Since then, prescription fentanyl has many times been diverted from medical facilities, to then be misused or sold by the thief.

Fentanyl is so powerful that people in severe, chronic pain will receive this drug as a slow-release patch so they can’t overdose. Those addicted to opioids try to find used patches and either smoke or otherwise consume the small amount of fentanyl left in the patch.

First Wave: Illicit Fentanyl Kills More than a Thousand People

From April 2005 to March 2007, illicitly manufactured fentanyl began showing up in U.S. heroin supplies in volume. More than a thousand people died, especially in large East Coast cities. The source was tracked to a single Mexican lab. That lab was destroyed and the deaths dropped down to the few people who would steal pharmaceutical fentanyl or used patches.

Second Wave: Fentanyl Returns to Drug Supplies

And then Asian pharmaceutical manufacturers discovered the possibilities of this drug. Unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies began to make fentanyl and several of its analogues and ship them to the U.S. Beginning in early 2014, U.S. drug dealers once again began to add this drug to their heroin supplies to give it more kick, or would color it and press it into counterfeit pills. Later, it began to be added to cocaine supplies. When Mexican drug manufacturers wanted to join in the action, Asian companies began to send them precursor chemicals they needed. At that point, fentanyl began to travel on the same channels as heroin and other drugs coming in from Mexico.

Brick of fentanyl seized by DEA.

Drug traffickers adding this substance to their heroin supplies, counterfeit pills or other substances are not running precise pharmaceutical labs. They may end up with “hot spots” of higher dosages of fentanyl or an analogue. And so one person using his drugs may die and the next one may not.

When not mixed with heroin, fentanyl is usually cut with lactose or mannitol, down to a very small volume of this drug, often around one percent. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl products on the street may be nicknamed Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash.

Chinese manufacturers recently banned the production or shipment of four of these analogues but that won’t stop outlaw pharmaceutical companies in that country. There’s far too much money to be made in this business.

The Solution to Fentanyl

It’s useless to tell heroin users to avoid this drug. As one young heroin user interviewed in Science Magazine said, “It started trickling in, and we were like, ‘’Wow, that was good, we need to get more of that.’ It was more intense.” On forums devoted to the use of drugs, users discuss the qualities of various fentanyl analogues.

The real solution lies in helping an addicted person discover the joy of sobriety. That can be a difficult task when continuing his (or her) habit is all a person can think of. But recovery is still possible, even from an addiction to a potent drug like fentanyl.

At Narconon centers across the United States and around the world, we have successfully helped tens of thousands of people reclaim their productive, sober lives. We can help you understand the trap of addiction that your loved one is struggling with and our drug-free solution. If your loved one refuses help or says he is not ready, we can help you through this obstacle as well. Waiting for a person to hit “rock bottom” when there is a drug like fentanyl on the market is very possibly waiting too long. A person could hit a hot spot of fentanyl instead and overdose before there is a chance to arrive safely in rehab.

Contact Narconon International today for a better understanding of this solution. Don’t wait—call today.

For information on the analogues of fentanyl scheduled (restricted and controlled) by the DEA, click here.

To give you an idea of the complexity of this problem, here is a list of analogues compiled from an Asian manufacturing company, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Institutes of Health and forensic researchers. This is a list of technical names and is intended for those doing research and looking for more specifics and detailed information on fentanyl and it’s analogues:

  • 2,5-Dimethylfentanyl or Phenaridine (2,5-Dimethylfentanyl) is used for surgical anesthesia.
  • 3-Allylfentanyl
  • 4-ANPP (Despropionyl fentanyl) was recently found in the body of a person who overdosed in New Hampshire.
  • 3-Methylbutyrfentanyl (3-MBF) is an analogue of butyrfentanyl and has been sold as a designer drug.
  • p-fluoroisobutyrfentanyl
  • p-chloroisobutyrfentanyl
  • Cyclopentylfentanyl
  • Furanylethylfentanyl
  • Norfentanyl was recently found in the body of a person who overdosed in New Hampshire.
  • Methoxyacetylfentanyl
  • Thenylfentanyl
  • 3-Methylfentanyl is one of the most potent drugs that has been widely sold on the black market, estimated to be 6000 times stronger than morphine. It showed up in street drug supplies in the U.S., was banned in 1986 and continued to show up occasionally after that.
  • 3-Methyl-thiofentanyl was sold briefly on the black market about 30 years ago.
  • 4-Fluorobutyrfentanyl is also known as 4-FBF and p-FBF. It is an opioid analgesic that is an analogue of butyrfentanyl and has been sold online as a designer drug.
  • Parafluorofentanyl (4-Fluorofentanyl) has been available in the illicit market and was nicknamed China White.
  • 4-Phenylfentanyl was developed around the same time as the animal tranquilizer carfentanil but is significantly less potent. This drug is about eight times more potent than fentanyl in tests on animals.
  • Valerylfentanyl
  • 4-Methoxybutyrfentanyl (also known as 4-MeO-BF) has been sold online as a designer drug.
  • Acrylfentanyl (also known as acryloylfentanyl) has been sold online as a designer drug.
  • α-Methylacetylfentanyl (or alphamethylacetylfentanyl) is a controlled substance in the U.S.
  • Alphamethylbutyrlfentanyl
  • α-Methylfentanyl (or alpha-Methylfentanyl) was sold on the black market in the 1970s. It was mixed with heroin and caused overdoses in the same way that fentanyl does now. It was banned in 1981 but continue to show up in heroin supplies. It was also nicknamed China White.
  • Alfentanyl is an ultra short-acting analgesic often used in surgical anesthetics. It is 40 times more potent than morphine.
  • Alphamethylthiofentanyl
  • α-methyl-thiofentanyl
  • Acetylfentanyl (acetyl fentanyl) is estimated to be about fifteen times more potent than morphine. It has never been used as a medicine. It was recently found in the body of a person who overdosed in New Hampshire.
  • Betahydroxyfentanyl was sold briefly on the black market about 30 years ago.
  • Alfentanil is called by its brand names Alfenta or Rapifen in Australia. It is a short-acting opioid painkiller used during surgery. It is one-fourth to one-tenth as strong as fentanyl.
  • Benzylfentanyl (R-4129) is a fentanyl analogue that is not currently controlled by the DEA.
  • β-Methylfentanyl was sold briefly on the black market about 30 years ago.
  • Butyr-fentanyl or butyrylfentanyl is a short-acting painkiller about a quarter of the strength of fentanyl.
  • Brifentanil (A-3331)
  • Carfentanil or carfentanyl is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. It is the strongest commercially-available opioid and is used only in treating large animals.
  • Isobutyrfentanyl
  • Furanylfentanyl is about a fifth the strength of fentanyl. It was recently found in the body of a person who overdosed in New Hampshire.
  • Lofentanil is slightly MORE potent than carfentanil. It’s one of the most potent opioids ever manufactured.
  • N-Methylcarfentanil is thousands of times less potent than carfentanil.
  • Mirfentanil
  • R-30490 also known as 4-Methoxymethylfentanyl is slightly less potent than carfentanil.
  • Ohmefentanyl is also known as β-hydroxy-3-methylfentanyl, OMFand RTI-4614-4
  • Ocfentanil was invented in an attempt to create an opioid that did not suppress respiratory and cardiovascular function.
  • Remifentanil is used in conjunction with other medications during surgery to relieve pain.
  • Sufentanil is also known as R30730 and its brand name Sufenta. It’s five to ten times more potent than fentanyl and 500 times more potent than morphine. It is used in medicine as a very fast-acting painkiller.
  • Thiofentanyl was sold on the black market for a while back in the early 1980s.
  • Thienylfentanyl was also nicknamed China White and was found on the illicit market for the first time in 1985.
  • Trefentanil

Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.