Fentanyl vs. Heroin

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Fentanyl vs Heroin

The opioid epidemic continues to rock the United States. 

Prescription opioids and heroin were for a long time at the heart of the problem, but in more recent years, another type of drug has become a big cause for concern. The number of opioid overdose deaths from synthetic opioids has skyrocketed. From 2012 to 2015, there was a 264% increase in the number of synthetic opioid overdose deaths in the United States,¹ and in 2015, the number of overdose deaths from these drugs surpassed those of both prescription opioids and heroin.² One new synthetic opioid that seems to be leading the charge is fentanyl. 

Comparing Fentanyl vs. Heroin in Detail 

Many people are familiar with heroin to some degree, but fentanyl is a much less well-known, partially because it has only risen in popularity and use more recently. Both are dangerous opioids contributing to the opioid epidemic in the United States, but there are important differences to note when comparing heroin versus fentanyl. 

Heroin is a natural opioid derived from the opium poppy plant. It typically comes in a white or brownish powder that can be injected intravenously, snorted, or even smoked. While heroin is illegal in the United States, at one point it was legal in varying degrees.³ Its highly addictive nature makes it hard to quit without formal heroin treatment, and its potency comes with a risk of overdose. In the United States, heroin overdoses began to increase drastically in 2010 but have since leveled out, and even started to decrease in 2016.2 Many people believe that this sudden rise was a result of people turning to heroin for a stronger and cheaper high after becoming addicted to prescription opioids and not getting prescription pill addiction treatment

While the decrease in heroin overdose deaths is promising, it has also been accompanied by a rise in overdoses from synthetic opioids like fentanyl. While heroin is derived from a plant, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid meaning it is man-made with chemicals instead of natural ingredients. Unlike heroin, fentanyl can also be prescribed by a doctor to treat severe pain and given as a shot, patch, or even distributed in the form of a lozenge. Unfortunately, while it has valid medical purposes, it is also distributed illegally often as a powder. When looking at fentanyl compared to heroin, the most important difference is the potency. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.4 This increased strength makes fentanyl much more dangerous than heroin and puts users at a higher risk of overdose. Unfortunately, many drugs can be laced with fentanyl so people will unknowingly ingest this substance and overdose. 

If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to opioids, get help before this problem gets worse. Our opioid addiction treatment in Palm Beach helps people safely quit these addictions and build a foundation for lasting sobriety from these drugs.  

To learn more about our programs and services at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches for yourself or a loved one, call 561-220-3981 now. 


    1. CDC- Prescription Behavior Surveillance System Issue Brief
    2.  CDC- Understanding the Epidemic 
    3. NAABT- Laws
    4. U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency- Drugs of Abuse 


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