Home > Fentanyl purity, potency, & synthesis: real-time testing of opioid drug products in the United States.

Krotulski, Alex J and Shinefeld, Jennifer and DeBord, Joshua and Logan, Barry K (2022) Fentanyl purity, potency, & synthesis: real-time testing of opioid drug products in the United States. USA: Center for Forensic Science Research and Education.

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A partnership between the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE) and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) has been established to accurately assess the drug supply in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. This initiative was established as a comprehensive effort examining various drug materials and drug forms, in both qualitative and quantitative fashions. The information and results reported herein represent a subset of the drug supply and not its entirety.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid first synthesized in 1960. Fentanyl is used widely in medicine for the treatment of severe pain. Fentanyl is reported to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Like other opioids, fentanyl is a central nervous system depressant and in overdose scenarios can lead to a range of adverse effects, including sedation, respiratory depression, and in severe cases fatal overdose. The prevalence of fentanyl in the United States recreational drug supply has continued to increase since the mid-2000s, becoming the most frequently encountered opioid in the United States. Recreational fentanyl (sometimes referred to as illicitly manufactured fentanyl) is the primary synthetic opioid identified in fatal drug overdoses, although there are increasingly reports of fentanyl poly-drug occurrences (e.g., in combination with xylazine, benzodiazepine, stimulants). Recreational fentanyl is commonly ingested through various routes of administration, including injection, smoking, and ingestion. Fentanyl remains a drug of high public health concern among an increasingly volatile drug supply, and its prevalence has thus far only increased despite various countermeasures.

Purity is defined as the amount or quantity of a specific drug in a material or product. Purity is assessed on an individual drug basis and can be reported as a percent (%) or absolute weight (mg). Potency is defined by the strength of effects the drug product can have in humans. Potency relates the purity of all pharmacologically active constituents. 

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