Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine: What Is the Opioid and How Dangerous Is It?

Over the weekend, news emerged that comedian Fuquan Johnson was among three people who died after reportedly ingesting a mixture of the synthetic opioid fentanyl and cocaine.

On Sunday, TMZ reported that police arrived at a home in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles on Friday night, finding four people who appeared to be deceased or unconscious. Officials told the outlet that Johnson, 42, and two others were pronounced dead at the scene, while another individual was hospitalized in critical condition.

Police officials told the outlet that the group had overdosed on cocaine laced with fentanyl, although autopsies will be conducted to determine what exactly killed the trio.

The L.A. deaths come after police in Long Island issued a warning about cocaine laced with fentanyl following a string of overdoes that led to at least six deaths in August, ABC7 New York reported.

Authorities in San Francisco and Nebraska have also recently issued warnings about cocaine laced with fentanyl.

What Is Fentanyl and How Dangerous Is It?

Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid that is around 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA,) and about 50 times more potent than heroin.

The legal prescription drug is primarily used to treat patients with severe pain, but it is also used recreationally. The drug is sold illegally in powder form, dropped onto blotter paper, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, or made into pills.

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are now the most common substances involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States, according to NIDA. Around 60 percent of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. in 2017 involved fentanyl—a significant rise from the figure of about 14 percent that was reported for 2010.

Because fentanyl is so potent, an individual can easily overdose by taking even just a slightly larger amount than they were expecting.

Some drug dealers also add fentanyl to other drugs—such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA—because it is a cheaper option that can produce a high with a relatively small quantity, thus, increasing their profits.

The NIDA says it is "especially risky" when people take substances that they don't realize have been laced with fentanyl, making it more likely that they will overdose.

Fentanyl produces several effects on the body that are similar to other opioid painkillers, including relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, urinary retention, pupil constriction, and respiratory depression, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration fact sheet.

Overdosing on fentanyl can result in life-threatening symptoms. An individual who has overdosed on the drug may experience respiratory failure leading to a coma, permanent brain damage, and death.

Other symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include stupor, constriction of the pupils and cold and clammy skin.

When fentanyl is mixed with other substances, it can be difficult to determine which drug is causing the overdose.

Tablets laced with fentanyl
Tablets believed to be laced with fentanyl are displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration Northeast Regional Laboratory on October 8, 2019, in New York. DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images