What makes fentanyl so dangerous?

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Upswing in Fentanyl Deaths Linked to Drug's Potency

There's been a sharp upswing in fatal overdoses from the painkiller fentanyl in recent years, which the Drug Enforcement Administration says is thanks at least in part to how powerful it is.

A dose of the drug is about 100 times more potent than the same amount of morphine.

SEE MORE: Heroin Might Be The Most Addictive Drug, And It's A Growing Problem

Certain synthetic versions can be 10,000 times stronger. They're marketed as elephant tranquilizer — and now they're finding their way into recreational drugs in the Midwest.

Both fentanyl and morphine act on the same receptors in the brain as a sedative, to suppress pain and to slow down breathing. Like morphine, fentanyl is used to treat severe pain, sometimes during recovery from surgery. So what makes fentanyl so much worse?

Learn more about the drug:

5 PHOTOS
Learn more about fentanyl
See Gallery
Learn more about fentanyl
A seized counterfeit hydrocodone tablets in the investigation of a rash of fentanyl overdoses in northern California is shown in this Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) photo released on April 4, 2016. At least 42 drug overdoses in the past two weeks have been reported in northern California, 10 of them fatal, in what authorities on Monday called the biggest cluster of poisonings linked to the powerful synthetic narcotic fentanyl ever to hit the U.S. West Coast. REUTERS/Drug Enforcement Administration/Handout via Reuters
Fentanyl Citrate, a CLASS II Controlled Substance as classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency in the secure area of a local hospital Friday, July10, 2009. Joe Amon / The Denver Post (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
This undated photo provided by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examinerâs Office shows fentanyl pills. Authorities say they've arrested Ryan Gaston, a man in a Cleveland suburb after seizing more than 900 fentanyl pills marked liked tablets of the less-potent opiate oxycodone. The Cuyahoga County medical examiner said that lookalike pills were likely to blame for some of the county's 19 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in January 2016. (Cuyahoga County Medical Examinerâs Office via AP)
A collection of different brand and dosages of the Fentanyl patch, clearly marked wit warnings about non-precribed uses, Wednesday, April 26,2006 in St. Louis. Abuse of the patch is on a steady upward swing leading to many deaths. Emergency rooms visits by people misusing the pain relieving opiate fentanyl shot up nearly 14-fold nationwide from 2000 to 2004 to 8,000, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' figures. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

It was designed in 1960 explicitly to act faster and be stronger than morphine.

This is thanks to its chemical structure. While morphine is hydrophilic, meaning it dissolves in water, fentanyl is lipophilic, meaning it dissolves in lipids and fats.

The blood-brain barrier naturally keeps out most hydrophilic molecules, but it lets in many lipophilic ones.

Fentanyl is more than 130 times more likely to enter the brain than morphine — so a similar dose can have a much more significant impact.

Read Full Story

People are Reading