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What Does Fentanyl Look, Taste, and Smell Like?

Fentanyl is a powerful and deadly synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, an amount small enough to fit into the tip of a pencil, can be deadly to people who don’t have a tolerance to opioids. In 2021, it was responsible for more than 66%of the 100,000+ drug overdose deaths in the United States.

Unfortunately, fentanyl is extremely widely available in the illegal drug supply. If you or someone you love is abusing drugs–regardless of the type of drug–it’s important to know what fentanyl looks, tastes, and smells like so you can identify it and avoid a potentially fatal drug overdose.

There are many different forms fentanyl can be found in, each of which takes on a different appearance and sometimes taste or smell.

Types of Pharmaceutical Fentanyl

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is approved by the FDA to manage severe pain in opioid-tolerant patients and to help manage pain after surgery. There are many different types of pharmaceutical fentanyl, including:[1]

  • Lozenges or lollipops that come in various different colors and shapes
  • Effervescent buccal and sublingual tablets
  • Sublingual sprays that look like other throat sprays
  • Nasal sprays that look like other prescription nasal sprays
  • Transdermal patches that stick to the skin
  • A clear, colorless, odorless, and tasteless liquid that is used as an injectable

Look, Smell, and Taste of Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl

A vast majority of the fentanyl that is in the drug supply and contributing to overdoses today is illicitly manufactured fentanyl. This type of fentanyl is manufactured in clandestine laboratories, usually outside of the United States, and is smuggled across the border.

Illicit fentanyl usually comes in the form of a fine white powder. It can look similar to cocaine or other powders. It is usually tasteless and odorless, too, making it difficult to detect. Some people report that fentanyl has a slightly sweet taste, unlike heroin which has a strong bitter taste

In rare cases, illicit fentanyl may also come in the form of a colorless, clear, odorless liquid that is added to blotter papers or other substances.[2]

Drug manufacturers and dealers may use this odorless and tasteless powder to increase the potency and profitability of their substances because it is easy and cheap to obtain. Some of the drugs that are often laced with fentanyl include heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Identifying Counterfeit Fentanyl Pills

In recent years, there have been increasing reports of fentanyl being found in counterfeit prescription pills including prescription opioids and benzodiazepines. For example, researchers have found that many fake oxycodone 30mg pills (“M30s” or “blues”) are being sold as oxycodone, but they actually contain fentanyl instead. The same thing is happening with other types of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines like Xanax. These pills often look exactly like the real thing, so there is no way to tell by look, smell, or taste if they contain fentanyl.

According to the DEA, 6 out of 10 counterfeit prescription pills that contain fentanyl now contain a potentially lethal dose–a 20% increase from just one year ago.[3]

If you obtain any pills on the street, you can examine their appearance to try and determine whether they are real or fake. Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl may:

  • Appear a slightly different color than usual
  • Be in a different shape than usual or have rough edges
  • Have different markings or unclear markings
  • Come in different packaging

The DEA has also warned of colorful, candy-like pills containing fentanyl which have been deemed “rainbow fentanyl.” Rainbow fentanyl can look like colorful ecstasy tablets, skittles, or even chalk, making it easier for drug traffickers to smuggle across borders and distribute without tipping off the authorities.

Fentanyl Test Strips Can Identify Fentanyl

Identifying fentanyl by look, taste, and smell can be extremely difficult, especially because fentanyl is usually added to other drugs. Even in its purest form, illicit fentanyl can look like other drugs, like heroin, meth, and cocaine.

The only real way to know if your drugs contain fentanyl is to test them. Drug users can purchase fentanyl test strips that detect the presence of fentanyl in substances. All you have to do is get the strips, dissolve a small amount of your drug in water, and use the test strip to see if it detects fentanyl.[4]

Of course, the best way to avoid a fentanyl overdose is to get help for an existing addiction and only take medications that are prescribed to you by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist at a legitimate pharmacy. If you abuse any drugs that you obtain illegally, there is a risk that they could contain fentanyl.

Find Help for Fentanyl Abuse and Addiction Today

Opioid abuse has always been dangerous, but it is more dangerous than ever before due to the amount of fentanyl circling in the drug supply. If you or someone you love is addicted to fentanyl or any other drug, it’s important to seek professional addiction treatment as soon as possible.

Mandala Healing Center offers holistically-tailored detox and fentanyl recovery programs that help individuals heal their minds, bodies, and spirits after addiction. Contact us today to learn how we can help you or a loved one recover.