Touching Fentanyl Can Kill You - Reality or Myth?

Written by Gerard Bullen

Editor: Editorial Team

Medically Reviewer: Evan Leonard, MS, MMS, PA-C

Last updated: March 18, 2022


Reality or Myth? Touching Fentanyl Can Kill You!

Fentanyl is a potent pain-relieving opioid medication.

It is similar in structure to morphine but is considered to be as much as 100 times more powerful.

Fentanyl is used to treat individuals with chronic severe pain or those dealing with extreme pain following surgical procedures.

Due to the rise in popularity of the drug, emergency medical personnel and first responders are sometimes forced to come into contact with this powerful medication.

In recent times, the media has reported that coming into contact with this drug could potentially pose a serious hazard for these professionals. Can touching fentanyl kill you? This concept is becoming a commonly held belief that may make some professionals afraid to do their jobs, but is there any truth behind it?

Why is Fentanyl Feared?

This type of medication is extremely potent. It is often used only when a patient has built up a tolerance to other pain-relieving medications. Like other opioid pain relievers, it works by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. This results in an increase in dopamine levels, which has a relaxing effect on the individual.

Where does the fear come into play with this type of medication? People can become fearful of this type of drug because they are aware of its potency. Additionally, people may fear it because they’re aware of the effects it can have on vital bodily functions. Since this type of medication affects dopamine levels and produces a relaxed state, it can also affect breathing patterns. Therefore, using too much of it could cause respiratory depression severe enough to eventually lead to coma or death.

What is fentanyl? Fentanyl is classified as a Schedule 2 prescription opioid medication. It is given to help control pain following surgical procedures for severe pain that can't be managed by other medications. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times powerful than morphine

Can Touching Fentanyl Lead to an Accidental Overdose?

News stories relaying an incidence of someone becoming ill after simply touching a drug such as this can create unnecessary worry or fear in many people. Emergency personnel never know what type of scene they may be entering when they respond to various incidents. It is only natural to expect news items such as this to be upsetting and create fear in the minds of individuals who do this type of work.

Rest assured, it is virtually impossible for someone to absorb enough Fentanyl through their skin to cause a serious overdose simply by touching it. Medical professionals and scientists confirm that not enough of the drug can be absorbed in this manner to create a life-threatening opioid overdose. Unfortunately, this is a myth that has continued to circulate in the media for some time. Medical professionals, emergency personnel, and laymen alike can be certain that simply touching fentanyl or other opioids will not result in harm to the average individual. There is no need for these individuals to be afraid of encountering these substances on the job. 

Using Powerful Opioid Medications Safely

Potent pain-relieving medications such as those of the opioid class continue to have a use when it comes to treating severe pain, especially in those who no longer respond to weaker medications. However, these types of drugs are powerful and must be administered in the proper setting and with careful regard to using them correctly. Proper education on using these medications safely and under the supervision of a medical professional can reduce the risk of dependency, misuse, and overdose in many cases.

Due to the exceptionally powerful nature of the drug, many people have developed a fear of coming into contact with potent medications such as the one discussed here. However, can touching fentanyl really kill you? Fortunately, research seems to indicate that the chances of this occurring are extremely small. While there is always a need to deal with these substances in a responsible manner, there is no need for first responders and other professionals to fear accidentally touching the drug. It is crucial that we continue to promote a solid understanding of potent medications and teach patients to use them responsibly to avoid injury or overdose.

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The Real Reasons Fentanyl Should be Feared

Please understand that this is not to indicate that there is nothing to fear about Fentanyl at all. This drug is highly potent and taking too much of it at one time can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. People are right to want to steer clear of this drug for the following reasons.

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In Arizona, Other Drugs are Being Laced With Fentanyl

Fentanyl is being added to lots of other drugs, such as heroin and cocaine in an attempt to make them much more potent. This is happening right here in Arizona, and these drugs are being trafficked across the Arizona/Mexico border all the time.

According to The Daily Courier, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stated that they seized close to 300,000 pills that had been laced with Fentanyl. The pills were loaded into a pickup truck that was being driven by an American man through Nogales, Arizona.

They also found cocaine and heroin. The estimated street value of drugs the truck was carrying was about $1 million.

Unfortunately, this story is not isolated. There have been many reports of authorities finding Fentanyl-laced drugs. The sad part is that a lot of them do make it through and find their way into the hands of consumers.



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Drug Dealers are Not Concerned About Overdoses

Maricopa County, Arizona reported that there were a total of 1,078 drug overdose deaths in 2019. Of course, this is just one county and therefore only a fraction of the amount of overdose deaths in the state that year. Opioids were responsible for the majority of these incidents and Fentanyl was implicated as having a role as well.

One would think that drug dealers would be upset about overdoses that were connected with their products. But the reality is that the exact opposite is true. Many dealers will lace some of their products with more dangerous substances for the purpose of causing overdoses. Their reason?

Because they believe that in doing so, word will get out that they have a much more potent product than their competition. This will, in turn, give their businesses a boost. This is a sobering thought and one that should drive more people to consider going to an Arizona drug rehab facility to recover if they are addicted.

Signs of an opioid overdose. Here are some common signs of an opioid overdose. Knowing the signs can help to save lives. Slower or even stopped breathing, extremely small pupils, becoming unconscious, and a slower heart rate than normal

Is Inhaling Fentanyl Dangerous?

There has been a lot of information out there about the risks of inhaling Fentanyl, and most of this has come from the DEA and first responders. The DEA has released some information that has only helped stir up public panic with regard to this drug. In one press release, they stated:

“Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin or accidental inhalation of airborne powder can also occur. DEA is concerned about law enforcement coming in contact with fentanyl on the streets during the course of enforcement, such as a buy-walk, or buy-bust operation.

“Just touching fentanyl or accidentally inhaling the substance during enforcement activity or field testing the substance can result in absorption through the skin and that is one of the biggest dangers of with fentanyl.”

Because this is a highly potent drug, inhaling it is never recommended unless it is being taken as medication in this way. But accidental inhalation is typically nothing to be too concerned about.

The Northern New England Poison Center had this to say about Fentanyl and Carfentanil exposures in first responders:

“Even in circumstances involving manufacturing of fentanyl and analogs, nearly 200 minutes of exposure is required to reach a starting dose of fentanyl. It is extremely unlikely a significant exposure would occur in a first responder.”

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Can People Get Addicted to Fentanyl?

It is possible to get addicted to Fentanyl, and some people do either on purpose or through accidental exposure, such as when using laced drugs. This drug is highly addictive. Because of the nature of it, those who get addicted to it are usually people who have already formed addictions to other types of opioids.

It may only take one use before a person finds that they are addicted to Fentanyl. Once a person does become dependent upon it, it is wise to consider professional treatment for recovery.

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Getting Treated for Fentanyl Addiction in Arizona

Arizona has a lot of drug rehab programs that are well-versed in the best ways to treat Fentanyl addictions. This requires a combination of detox and therapy in order to treat the whole addiction and produce the best results.

Drug rehab services. Once detox is complete and the drug is completely out of your system, you can transition into a rehab program. Some key services are, one-on-one counseling, group counseling, therapeutic activities, nutritional counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and case management

Drug Detox Programs in AZ

The drug detoxification process is critical for anyone who is addicted to Fentanyl. When a person stops their use of this drug, they are very likely to go through withdrawal, and symptoms can quickly become severe and hard to manage.

Some of the more common Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Significant pain in the muscles and bones.
  • Problems with sleep.
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Goosebumps with cold flashes.
  • Restless legs, which can make it hard to sleep or stay comfortable.
  • Severe cravings for the drug.

Detoxing can help by reducing the severity of these and any other symptoms a person may experience. It can also decrease their chances of a potential complication during the withdrawal period.

Common fentanyl withdrawal symptoms. When someone stops using fentanyl, they are very likely to go through withdrawal symptoms can quickly become severe and hard to manage. Significant muscle pain, bone pain, sleeping problems, vomiting and or diarrhea, severe cravings for the drug, goosebumps with cold flashes, restless legs which can make it hard to sleep or stay comfortable

Frequently Asked Questions


What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is classified as a synthetic opioid drug. It is 50 times stronger than heroin and as much as 100 times stronger than morphine. It comes in a lot of different forms, and people take it by injection, as a lozenge, by taking pills or by applying a patch to their skin.

Fentanyl is classified as a Schedule II prescription medication. Most of the time it is reserved for people who have severe pain that is not well-managed by other types of medications. It is also given to help control pain following surgical procedures.

Fentanyl is also manufactured for illegal distribution on the streets. It may be added to other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, and it goes by several street names:

  • Apache
  • China Girl
  • Friend
  • China White
  • Murder 8
  • Goodfellas

Can Inhaling Fentanyl Cause an Overdose?

Medical toxicologists agree that in order for someone to overdose after inhaling Fentanyl, they would need to be exposed to it in the air for a prolonged period of time. Some research indicates that in order to reach a dose of 100 mcg of the drug, a person would have to exposed for close to 200 minutes.

What are the Signs of an Opioid Overdose?

It is important for people to understand what the signs of an opioid overdose are. Knowing can help them protect themselves and their loved ones.

Some of the signs of an opioid overdose include:

  • A pale skin tone.
  • Skin that is clammy to the touch.
  • A purple or blue hue to the lips or fingernails.
  • Vomiting or making gurgling sounds.
  • Becoming unconscious.
  • Being unable to speak.
  • A slower heart rate than normal.
  • Slower or even stopped breathing.
  • The body goes limp.
  • Extremely small pupils.
  • Trouble staying awake.
  • Problems with walking and coordination.

What Should You do if You Make Contact With Fentanyl?

If you happen to make contact with Fentanyl, there is no need to panic. Simply coming into contact with the drug should not harm you unless you ingest it.

Wash your hands with soap and water only. It is never recommended to use bleach to clean contaminated skin. Also, do not use hand sanitizer. Doing so only increases the rate of absorption of Fentanyl into the skin.

How Can You Tell if a Drug is Laced With Fentanyl?

There is actually no way of telling if a drug has been laced with Fentanyl. It is typically added to drugs that have a similar appearance, which means it often goes unnoticed. Someone who has taken a drug that has been laced with Fentanyl probably will not know it until they experience difficulties with it later.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay in Your System?

Understanding how long it takes for Fentanyl to leave the body means first considering its elimination half-life. This refers to the amount of time it takes for half of the drug to exit the body.

The amount of time it takes for the body to process Fentanyl depends on the way it was administered, primarily. When this drug is taken by injection, it has a half-life of about 2-4 hours for adults. In total, it will take between 11 and 22 hours before it is completely out of your system.

People who use this drug as a lozenge or a patch may find that its half-life is between 7-17 hours. It takes about 36 hours to completely eliminate it from the body after use has stopped.

Even so, it is also important to recognize that Fentanyl leaves behind metabolites, which stay in the body much longer. A very sensitive drug test may be positive for this drug even several days after it has been stopped.

How long does fentanyl stay in your system? The amount of time it takes for the body to process Fentanyl depends primarily on the way it was administered. Taken by injection. Half life. 2 to 4 hours. Completely out of your system in 11 to 22 hours. Lozenge or a patch. Half life. 7 to 17 hours. Completely out of your system in 36 hours

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Arizona Drug Rehab Centers

After detoxing, people should always be prepared to move on to drug rehab. This is because they need to understand the reasons behind their addictions. Learning why they started using in the first place will aid in the recovery process. Treating the root cause can reduce the chances of a relapse in the future as well.

During drug rehab, people go through many types of therapy, including group and individual sessions. They may be treated for co-occurring disorders if one has been deemed to be present. This can also help to reduce the chance of a relapse and promote long-term recovery.


Author: Gerard Bullen
December 1, 2021

Gerard has been writing exclusively for the U.S. substance addiction treatment industry for many years, providing a range of medically-reviewed work, including white papers, long-form, and short-form content articles, and blog posts for accredited addiction treatment centers. A member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard’s specific focus is substance addiction (an area that has impacted Gerard’s personal life in several ways), and he is particularly drawn to the topics of professional, evidence-based treatment, new and alternative therapies, and enabling readers to find their own sustainable, long-term recovery. Gerard lives and works in Maryland, U.S., he’s happily married, and a proud father. His interests include hiking with the family, reading fiction (from the classics to virtually all of the current NYT bestseller list), American and British film classics, and his beloved dogs, Toby and Coco, both rescued from the local pound.

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