Is Fentanyl the Third Coming of the Opioid Crisis?

Picture of Tara Gibson By Tara Gibson


fetanyl opioid crisisIt comes as no surprise to hear the opioid crisis is getting out of hand. Every day over 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, making it a now well-known national crisis. The misuse and addiction to opioids, such as pain killers, heroin, and synthetic opioids – such as fentanyl – is affecting public health, social welfare, and economic welfare according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Many are discussing the large upsurge of opioid related overdoses and what can be done to stop this heartbreaking epidemic that leaves a wake of destruction for families, friends, and entire communities.   

Drug overdose deaths are showing no signs of stopping or slowing down anytime soon. In fact, deaths from drug overdose are up among men and women of all races, and adults of nearly all ages. To truly understand this extent of opioid abuse, the CDC outlines the following shocking statistics on drug overdoses:

  • From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose.
  • Around 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid.
  • In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 6 times higher than in 1999.

The Three Waves of Opioid Overdose Deaths

The CDC explains three distinct waves of opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, where a shocking 400,000 people have died.

  1. Prescription Opioids
    The first wave started with the prescribing of opioids in the 1990’s, where many overdoses were involving both natural and semi-synthetic prescription opioids as well as methadone.
  2. Heroin
    The second wave began in 2010. There was a massive increase in overdose deaths involving heroin.
  3. Synthetic Opioids
    The final wave began in 2013 and has been rapidly increasing surpassing both heroin and prescription opioid overdose deaths by a lot. Many of these overdoses involve illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, which continues to change and can be found combined with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine.

The graph below provides a visual representation of all three waves of opioid overdoses, including the huge rise in fentanyl and synthetic opioid related deaths.

3 Waves O fThe Rise In Opioid Overdose Deaths

Synthetic Opioid Crisis – Fentanyl & Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl

So, what are synthetic opioids? They are a class of drugs that are manufactured to provide pain relief mimicking naturally occurring opioids such as morphine or codeine. The CDC explains, “They tend to be highly potent, which means only a small amount of the drug is required to produce a given effect.” Although some synthetic opioids are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, such as fentanyl and tramadol, there are also illegally manufactured synthetic opioids that are distributed through the illicit drug market, such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl, or IMF.  This opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin, and 100 times more potent than morphine.

Below are two infographics explaining the difference between fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl:

Fentanyl Infographic








Unfortunate statistics involving fentanyl and tramadol (both synthetic opioids) include:

  • In 2017, more than 28,000 deaths involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone) occurred in the United States, which is more deaths than from any other type of opioid.
  • Also in 2017, the largest increase in synthetic opioid overdose death rates was in males aged 25-44.
  • Deaths from synthetic opioids significantly increased in 23 states and the District of Columbia from 2016 to 2017.
  • West Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire had the highest death rates from synthetic opioids.

Could Public Safety Programs or Technologies Help?

In response to the fentanyl crisis, communities are starting to take a closer look into opioid addiction and what they can do to help. In Gloucester, MA, the police department has put in place a revolutionary program called “ANGEL”. The program essentially is aimed to help those who are addicted to opioids instead of putting them in handcuffs. The Gloucester Police Department explains, “If an addict comes into the Gloucester Police Department and asks for help, an officer will take them to the Addison Gilbert Hospital, where they will be paired with a volunteer “ANGEL” who will help guide them through the process. We have partnered with more than a dozen additional treatment centers to ensure that our patients receive the care and treatment they deserve — not in days or weeks, but immediately.” They’re making it clear that they want to help those who are struggling with drug addiction, and tackle the problem instead of letting it continue.

Related Blog: Escalating Health Risks For Opioid Crisis Emergency Teams

Some law enforcement agencies are turning to public safety technologies to assist them when arriving on scene to help an overdose victim. Public safety profiles, such as Smart911, allow residents to sign up for free and include important information that can help first responders, and that are designed to provide better outcomes during emergencies. Important information pertaining to the synthetic opioid crisis could include the following:

  1. Identifying the location of naloxone kits in the home. Increasingly, families and loved ones are proactive with regards to treating a loved one that overdoses. This often includes purchasing auto-injector or nasal spray versions of naloxone which can be administered quickly and easily during an overdose. If 9-1-1 knows of the presence of naloxone in the home, they can provide instructions to a family member on scene who is administering the drug. Additionally, identifying the location of naloxone kits in the home can aid EMS or other first responders who may or may not have their own supply of the drug.
  2. Identifying loved ones with drug issues can also aid public safety agencies in how they approach the person during a 9-1-1 call. Mental health and domestic violence calls are cited as the most dangerous for first responders.
  3. Identifying emergency contacts. If an overdose occurs, law enforcement can quickly identify and contact the correct people to notify.

If you’re interested in learning how else the Rave 911 Suite features can help your community tackle the opioid crisis, especially with the third wave of increased overdoses due to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, download the helpful eBook below.

Download Opioid Crisis Whitepaper

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Written by Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!


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