Opioids and Naloxone

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is an opioid that is much more toxic than most other opioids (like heroin, morphine, fentanyl, methadone and codeine). Fentanyl is usually prescribed in a patch form as a painkiller. It is around 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine. This makes the risk of accidental overdose much higher.

There are also different types of fentanyl being made illegally and sold on the streets. This illicit fentanyl is often made as a powder and mixed with other drugs (like heroin, cocaine or crack). It is also being pressed into pills made to look like other prescription pills (like oxycontin, eighties or percocet) or other pills including speed. It may be in drugs that are in powder, liquid or pill form.

What’s the risk with fentanyl?

When fentanyl is mixed with other opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, or stimulants like cocaine, it increases the risk of accidental overdose.

Illicit fentanyl is much more toxic than other pharmaceutical-grade opioids. There is no easy way to know if fentanyl is in the drugs you are using. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it. Any drug can be cut (mixed) with fentanyl. Even a very small amount can cause an overdose.

When you are getting drugs from anywhere other than a pharmacy or medical professional, there is no way to be sure exactly what is in them or how toxic they may be.

It’s important to know that drugs other than fentanyl can also cause an overdose! 

Check out our tips on overdose prevention and naloxone to reduce your risk!

What is carfentanil?

Carfentanil is an opioid that is used by veterinarians for very large animals like elephants. It is not for human use. It is approximately 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. This means carfentanil can be deadly in extremely small amounts.

There is no easy way to know if carfentanil is in your drugs, you can’t see it, smell it or taste it.

What is naloxone?

Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Opioids include drugs like heroin, morphine, fentanyl, methadone and codeine.

How does Naloxone work?

In an opioid overdose a person’s breathing slows down or stops. Naloxone blocks the effect of opioids on the brain. It temporarily reverses these effects on a person’s breathing. Giving naloxone can prevent death or brain damage from lack of oxygen. Naloxone usually starts working in less than five minutes and wears off in 30-45 minutes. 

If the opioid is still in the body after the naloxone wears off, the overdose can return so repeated doses may be needed. It is important to call 911 and get medical assistance when someone overdoses.

Who can take naloxone?

Naloxone is safe to use for all ages. It is also safe for anyone with medical conditions or individuals who are pregnant or lactating.

The only reason to NOT give naloxone would be if there was history of allergy to naloxone or its ingredients - which you likely wouldn’t know. 

Learn more about naloxone from the following BC Emergency Health Services video:


Adapted with permission of Ottawa Public Health. For educational and non-commercial purposes only.