What Does Fentanyl Taste and Smell Like? (How to Recognize It)
Fentanyl has no discernable odor or taste, so it can be difficult to recognize. Fentanyl test strips are the best way to recognize the drug.
Educating yourself about fentanyl begins with understanding how potent it is. It is a synthetic opioid, meaning it is entirely manmade, and it is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified it as a Schedule II prescription drug due to its high likelihood of misuse and addiction.
Fentanyl was originally developed and approved for the short-term management of severe pain. People in extreme discomfort following surgery or in advanced stages of cancer have greatly benefited from having a pain reliever as potent as fentanyl available. Many other people, however, misuse fentanyl for the intense heroin-like high it can produce.
Fentanyl works by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for controlling messages about pain and pleasure. When opioid drugs, such as fentanyl, bind to these receptors, an excessive amount of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good) is released. The resulting state of euphoria and relaxation is what people commonly become addicted to.
How to Identify Fentanyl
Identifying fentanyl can be very tricky, especially when it is laced into other drugs. If it is mixed into another powder, such as heroin or cocaine, it can be almost impossible to tell that it is present just by looking at it.
It is much easier to identify fentanyl when it has been prescribed by a doctor. Medically prescribed forms of fentanyl include the following forms:
- Transdermal patch
- Buccal tablet
- Sublingual tablet
- Sublingual spray
- Oral lozenge
- Nasal spray
- Injectable solution
If you have been prescribed fentanyl in any of the above forms, it is important to keep it in a clearly identifiable and safe location where it is out of reach of anyone, like children, who may accidentally ingest it. Accidently taking even just small doses of fentanyl can have fatal consequences.
Identifying fentanyl that has been bought off the street is much harder. As fentanyl becomes increasingly popular for illicit drug manufacturers to mix into other products, it is important to be vigilant about what you are consuming.
Because there is no way know if a drug is laced with fentanyl just by looking at it and it can be dangerous to sample it, the safest thing to do is to invest in a fentanyl test kit. These are available for as little as $1 per test strip.
Fentanyl testing kits, which come in the form of testing strips, were originally developed for testing people for fentanyl use via a urine drug test. The test strips are becoming more popularly used, however, for testing for the presence of fentanyl in other drugs.
To use a test strip:
- Mix the drug you have into a small amount of clean water.
- Dip the test strip into the water and hold it here for 15 seconds.
- Place the test strip down and wait for your results.
- One line indicates a positive fentanyl test, and two lines indicates a negative test.
Fentanyl tests kits are proving to be a valuable form of opioid use harm reduction. Since many of the opioid overdoses related to fentanyl use are accidental and seen in people who never intended to take fentanyl, test kits provide people with an opportunity to make informed decisions about their drug use.
Research has found that people who know about fentanyl in their drugs prior to use are more likely to:
- Not take the drug at all.
- Consume the drug more slowly.
- Only use the drug if they have naloxone available.
- Change where they buy their drugs.
The limitations of fentanyl testing kits start with not being able to identify how much fentanyl is present. The testing strips can tell you if there is fentanyl or not, but they do not tell you the quantity. The quantity of fentanyl present in your drugs is almost irrelevant, however, as any amount of fentanyl can be fatal, especially when mixed with other opioids.
The second limitation of fentanyl testing kits is that they are not able to test for every analog, or variation of fentanyl that enters the market. Illicit manufacturers constantly update their drug formulas to make them undetectable on current drug testing kits. The companies that produce drug testing kits update their tests as often as they can, but they cannot guarantee that a brand new fentanyl analog that recently entered the illicit drug market will be detected.
Signs of Fentanyl Abuse
As the most potent opioid pain reliever available, it is no surprise that fentanyl has a high risk for misuse, dependence, and addiction. When used as directed by your doctor for short-term pain management, it is considered to be a safe drug to take. When used beyond its intended time limits or for recreational purposes, however, fentanyl abuse becomes very likely.
Signs of prescription drug abuse, which includes fentanyl, are:
- Taking a medication in any way other than as prescribed, such as in greater doses or more frequently than you are supposed to.
- Taking someone else’s prescription.
- Taking a medication just for the purpose of getting high.
The above behaviors indicate patterns of misuse of prescription drugs that need to be addressed before harmful consequences, such as an overdose, occur. If you know someone is using fentanyl, the following are signs that someone is currently on the drug:
- Increased mood
- Changes in mood
- Pain relief
- Nausea and vomiting
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Reduced appetite
- Stomach cramps
- Sleepiness and confusion
- Slurred speech
- Impaired motor coordination
- Decreased cognition
- Slowed breathing rate
- Lowered blood pressure
If you are with someone who starts to exhibit chest pains, problems breathing, a bluish complexion, seizures, or loss of consciousness, it is important to seek emergency medical care right away. These are all signs of a fentanyl overdose, which can be fatal if not addressed immediately.
The Dangers of Fentanyl
The real dangers of fentanyl use lie in its potency and where it is obtained from. Fentanyl is associated with high rates of fatal overdoses because it is so strong, and people often don’t realize it has been mixed into other drugs they have bought illicitly. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that fentanyl sold on the streets is commonly mixed with heroin and cocaine, which amplifies the potency and associated dangers of all drugs involved.
Fentanyl greatly increases the risk of overdose when mixed into powders or pills that users are often unaware of. While fentanyl acts on opioid receptors that induce feelings of euphoria, it also affects parts of the brain that control breathing. When taken unknowingly and in high doses, fentanyl can quickly cause respiratory arrest, which can be fatal if not addressed soon enough.
As the rates of fatal overdoses related to fentanyl continue to climb, the likelihood that illicit drugs are laced with fentanyl is also increasing. A recent article explains that most Xanax that is bought off the street is laced with fentanyl. The difference between a safe and deadly dose of such Xanax could be the difference of an amount of fentanyl equivalent to a few grains of salt.
Counterfeit Xanax Laced With Deadly Fentanyl Becoming Popular Party Drug. (February 2018). Fox News 11 Los Angeles.
Everything You Need to Know About Fentanyl. (January 2019). Medical News Today.
Fentanyl. Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
Fentanyl. Harm Reduction Coalition.
Fentanyl, Transdermal Patch. (September 2018). Healthline.
Misuse of Prescription Drugs. (December 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
What Is Fentanyl? (June 2016). National Institute on Drug Abuse.