Mac Miller’s Sept. 7 has been officially ruled an accidental overdose due to multiple drug toxicity including fentanyl, the same opiate that was the cause of Tom Petty‘s death on Oct. 2, 2017 and Prince‘s death on April 21, 2016.
While fentanyl may not be as immediately familiar to many people as more commonly cited drugs like Percocet or Oxycontin, addiction expert and founder of Origins Behavioral Healthcare, Ben Levenson, told PEOPLE the extremely powerful, synthetic opiate isn’t uncommon.
Explaining what exactly the drug is, Levenson – who also founded The Levenson Foundation and frequently works on Dr. Phil as an addiction advisor – compared the potency of the drug to other regular abused drugs.
“It’s very, very powerful. 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin,” he said. “Depending on the grade, about 40 times more potent than heroin.”
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The CDC estimates that fentanyl is 80 times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin. Classified as a Schedule II drug by the federal government, its medical uses are typically pain management following surgery or for chronic pain.
However, Levenson said using the drug to regularly treat pain management isn’t the best option, as fentanyl – which is so potent it’s prescribed in micrograms as opposed to milligrams – hits patients quickly, in about five minutes, but wears off quickly as well, lasting only about an hour.
“Fentanyl was utilized initially to make the death experience painless,” Levenson, a recovered addict himself, explained. “It was never intended to be used during the course of someone’s life to manage pain. It is extremely over-prescribed and highly sought after by addicts.
“It hits you fast and it wears off fast, so it’s not a good drug for someone who is, for instance, recovering from knee surgery, although it’s widely prescribed. It was never designed for that.”
Now marketed under the brand names Actiq, Duragesic and Sublimaze, fentanyl was originally synthesized by Paul Janssen in 1959 and introduced in 1960 as a structurally related analog for pethidine (more commonly known as Demerol), which had been created a few years prior. Levenson said the original means for the drug was palliative care.
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Fentanyl was being abused recreationally by the 1970s. Apparently, it’s appeared on the streets under names like: Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT and bizarrely, Tango and Cash. While initially, it was simply stolen from pharmacies, it has also been synthesized by drug dealers and is frequently “cut” or mixed with heroin or cocaine, going by ominous names like Bomb, Drop Dead, Flatline and Lethal Injection. One gram of pure fentanyl can be cut into approximately 7,000 doses for street sale, and manufacture of the drug requires relatively little technical knowledge.
Now, the drug is medically administered in a variety of …read more