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Comparing the Dangers of Fentanyl and Heroin

Opioids, derived from opium poppy plants, are a commonly abused drug. Over a million people in the United States have died from drug overdoses since 2000, and the majority of these drug overdoses were due to opioids. Two of the most deadly are fentanyl and heroin.

Fentanyl is a particularly dangerous opioid drug, and parents, law enforcement, and everyone else needs to be aware of it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pharmaceutical drug approved for treating severe pain, and it is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Understanding the Fentanyl Threat

While fentanyl has approved medical uses, it has created a disastrous situation in communities throughout the United States. The drug is being illegally used and sold in many areas to cause addiction. It is also endangering people because it can be laced with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine without the drug user’s knowledge.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posits that most cases involving overdose and death from fentanyl are linked to illegally-made fentanyl. Mixing it with other drugs creates euphoric effects but increases the risk of death.

Fentanyl presents a risk because even the exposure to small amounts of fentanyl can be fatal. For example, doses as small as 0.25 milligrams can be absorbed through the skin and can be deadly, according to American Addiction Centers. It is popular because fentanyl is cheaper and easier to obtain than heroin, another opioid drug.

Which States Have The Most Overdose Deaths?

According to American Addiction Centers, fentanyl is highly addictive and can be in the form of a pill, patch, lozenge, powder, or injectable liquid. Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, California and Texas have seen the most fentanyl deaths over a two-year period, notes Route Fifty.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that China and Mexico are the primary sources of fentanyl trafficked into the United States. Mexican transnational criminal organizations use clandestine laboratories and processing methods to produce the deadly drug with unregulated, dangerous chemicals.

The DEA also says that the Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel are likely the primary trafficking organizations responsible for moving fentanyl into the United States. Often, this drug trafficking occurs through the southwest border of the United States.  

[Related article: Illegal Fentanyl Poses an Ongoing Threat to US Communities]

The Heroin Epidemic

Heroin is a drug that has been abused in the United States for many decades. Unlike fentanyl, heroin is mostly produced in Afghanistan and over 80% of the world’s heroin supply is produced in Afghanistan, according to the White House. However, the Taliban controls Afghanistan, presenting challenges to law enforcement seeking to curtail heroin’s production.

Heroin can be injected, inhaled or smoked. Similar to its counterpart, it is highly addictive may be combined with other illicit drugs with or without the user’s knowledge.

Both fentanyl and heroin can result in overdose deaths and can be extremely harmful to the human body. As a police officer, I have witnessed many people who got hooked on heroin and had their lives destroyed through addiction in a short time.

In summary, both fentanyl and heroin are extremely dangerous. Those who are struggling with a fentanyl or heroin addiction may wish to contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s National Helpline at 800-662-HELP.

Interested in gaining a deeper understanding of opioids, criminal justice, drug cartels and the narcotics threat? Consider exploring our online master’s in criminal justice at the University.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. For more information on Jarrod and links to his social media and website, check out

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