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Home > Global SMART update 2017. Fentanyl and its analogues - 50 years on.

Global SMART Programme. (2017) Global SMART update 2017. Fentanyl and its analogues - 50 years on. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

PDF (Global SMART update 2017: Fentanyl)

The latest SMART update - number 17, under the theme " Fentanyl and its analogues - 50 years on" - includes information on the growing complexity of the opioid market, in particular the fentanyl group, international controls, evolving patterns of use and associated risks, global developments in manufacture and trafficking of fentanyl analogues and their precursors.

Fentanyl is considered the strongest opioid available for medical use in humans, with about 100 times the potency of morphine. It is highly valued for its analgesic and sedative effects and widely used in the management of severe pain and anaesthesia. On the other hand, such drugs are liable to abuse and have high dependence producing properties. For instance, a report from a drug consumption room in Sydney, Australia, under medical surveillance, found that the risk of overdose upon injecting fentanyl was two times higher than upon injecting heroin, and eight times higher than upon injecting other prescription opioids.

In the 1970s and 1980s, products containing fentanyl and its analogues appeared on the illicit drug market and became notorious for accidental overdoses. The problem seems to have resurfaced, and the clandestine manufacturing of fentanyl has risen to unprecedented levels. The required materials and equipment for manufacture are readily available online, at a low cost. This situation is aggravated by the rapid emergence of novel non-fentanyl analogues which have not been approved for medical use.

North America is particularly affected by an opioid overdose crisis. While originally the sharp rise in overdoses was attributed to heroin, the current crisis is mainly attributed to illicitly manufactured fentanyl or fentanyl analogues which have caused several epidemics of overdose deaths since the 1970s. Since fall 2013, fentanyl and its analogues have contributed to more than 5000 overdose deaths.

Key research insights also included in the latest update delineate a complex market, whereby the sale of illicit opioids is entwined with the legitimate and underground supply of opioid pharmaceuticals, exposing users to the ruthless criminal practice of counterfeiting prescription medications. The report calls for special attention to the global developments in clandestine opioid manufacturing and trafficking, and associated international concerns.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Report
Drug Type
Opioid, New psychoactive substance, Prescription/Over the counter
Intervention Type
General / Comprehensive, Harm reduction, Crime prevention, Policy
March 2017
12 p.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Corporate Creators
Global SMART Programme
Place of Publication
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