Many Drugs Now Mixed With Fentanyl = More Overdoses

Ambulance stopped by the road
Photo by tfoxfoto/

According to a Drug Enforcement Administration press release, traces of fentanyl (an opioid 80-100 times more potent than morphine) were found in a sample of crack cocaine that sent 18 people to a Philadelphia hospital during a four-day period. Unfortunately, three of the patients died. But their cause of death was not crack cocaine, it was fentanyl poisoning. Quoting Dr. Utsha Khatri, a specialist who studied the case, “None of them (the patients) had intended to use opioids or fentanyl, but their drug testing as well as their clinical presentation argued they had been exposed to pretty high doses of fentanyl.”

Just the act of using drugs is already extremely risky. But that risk is increased several times over when a batch of drugs is tainted with an additional drug chemical that the user had no intention of ingesting. Unfortunately, drug dealers often mix foreign substances into their batches because they stand to benefit from doing so. Fentanyl, for example, is cheap and addictive. Thus, it is a cost-effective filler to add to other drugs like cocaine, meth, and now crack cocaine. And if addicts survive after using the mixed drug, they’ll likely become hooked, all the better for the dealer.

Sadly, many addicts do not survive using a drug that’s been laced with fentanyl.

Rising Cocaine, Crack Cocaine, and Meth Deaths; Fentanyl is to Blame

Paramedics with a dead addict
Photo by Tashi-Delek/

The case in Pennsylvania was so concerning that it caught the eye of Drug Enforcement Administration officials. They investigated, and they found that the local case was not an isolated one, but was instead reflective of a state-wide, possibly nation-wide issue. Quoting their report, “Analysis of toxicology test results for Philadelphia overdose deaths revealed 46 percent were positive for the presence of cocaine or a cocaine metabolite in 2017; this represented a slight increase from 43 percent in 2016. In addition, 66 percent were positive for fentanyl in 2017—a substantial increase over 44 percent in 2016. The increased presence of fentanyl in overdose deaths is attributed to increased availability and fentanyl’s potency. Analysis of the percentage of deaths with the presence of cocaine identified a marked increase in the co-occurrence of fentanyl from 2016 (17 percent) to 2017 (33 percent).” The trend is apparent enough. More drugs are being mixed with fentanyl to increase potency.

The issue of drug dealers mixing traces of fentanyl into their drug supply has become so widespread that it also caught the attention of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In November of 2020, NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow wrote an open letter about the developing crisis of new, fentanyl-laced “super drugs.”

“Although deaths from opioids continue to command the public’s attention, an alarming increase in deaths involving the stimulant drugs methamphetamine and cocaine are a stark illustration that we no longer face just an opioid crisis.”

Dr. Volkow alerted the public that America’s addiction crisis is no longer “just an opioid crisis” but a crisis of many different drugs that have been mixed with synthetic opioids. In her own words, “Although we often talk about individual drugs and drug use disorders in isolation, the reality is that many people use drugs in combination and also die from them in combination. Although deaths from opioids continue to command the public’s attention, an alarming increase in deaths involving the stimulant drugs methamphetamine and cocaine are a stark illustration that we no longer face just an opioid crisis. We face a complex and ever-evolving addiction and overdose crisis characterized by shifting use and availability of different substances and use of multiple drugs (and drug classes) together.”

Dr. Volkow went on to point out how, though drug overdoses from stimulant drugs like cocaine and meth have been increasing for decades; both substances spiked in fatalities in recent years. Dr. Volkow reported that meth overdoses increased 10-fold from 2009 to 2019. In 2019, about 16,000 people died from meth overdoses, and another 16,000 or more died from cocaine overdoses. According to the data, fentanyl was found in a large majority of both cocaine and meth overdoses, meaning that most of the addicts who were dying from “cocaine and meth overdoses” were really dying from fentanyl laced into cocaine and meth.

Illicit lab, drug making
Photo by gorodenkoff/

Why is Fentanyl So Lethal?

Fentanyl is a pharmaceutical opioid originally intended to treat extreme pain levels, usually reserved for cancer patients or for those in palliative care. What makes fentanyl so dangerous is the simple fact that it is extremely potent. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and at least ten times more potent than heroin. And finally, drug cartels have figured out how to produce fentanyl in clandestine drug labs, thus flooding the illicit drug market with an extremely potent, easily lethal substance as a result.

Fentanyl abuse has spread across the United States like wildfire, evident in the soaring overdose deaths connected to the substance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdoses involving synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl) were almost 12 times higher in 2019 than they were in 2013. Fentanyl’s extreme potency, coupled with a massive increase in the availability of the drug, and exacerbated by the fact that fentanyl is often added to a drug supply without users knowing, are the factors that have come together to create a tragic surge in fentanyl-related deaths.

Drug Use is Never Safe

The painful wake-up call from the recent findings is that no form of drug use is ever even moderately safe. Sadly, even drug users who try to avoid opioids by experimenting with cocaine, meth, or another stimulant drug are no longer protected from an opioid overdose, as so many batches of cocaine, crack cocaine, and meth are now being laced with fentanyl.

Every year, tens of thousands of Americans die from drug-related causes, mainly overdoses. The findings are still preliminary, but the CDC estimated that over 90,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2020, a 30% increase from 2019. To put it simply, drug abuse is more dangerous now than perhaps ever before. That’s why it is so immensely important that people who use drugs get clean as soon as possible.

If you know someone who is addicted to drugs, please ensure that they get help. It does not matter what drug they are using; insist that they get help. Please don’t wait until it is too late. Contact a qualified drug and alcohol addiction treatment center today.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.