Fentanyl in Maine
If you think someone is experiencing an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately and give them naloxone.
The introduction of non-pharmaceutical fentanyl into the Maine drug supply has increased the risk of overdose. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with roughly 50 times the strength of heroin, or 100 times the strength of morphine. It has nearly replaced heroin in the Maine drug supply, and it can be found in many other substances, like methamphetamines. It is responsible for the majority of overdose deaths. In 2022, roughly 80% of fatal overdoses in Maine involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogs (substances that are chemically similar to fentanyl).
Due to the presence of fentanyl, accidental overdose can happen to anyone taking an opioid or other substance (whether prescribed or not), but it does not have to be fatal. Harm reduction practices keep people safe–as a wellness tool, a bridge to recovery or permanently as a lifestyle–especially given the constant changes in the drug supply.
If I am prescribed fentanyl, is it dangerous?
Fentanyl exists as a prescription and as an illicit drug. It is used in medical care for severe pain management and can be used safely as prescribed and monitored by a healthcare provider.
Why does fentanyl cause so many overdoses?
Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and pressed pills that can look like prescriptions like Oxycodone™, Xanax™ and Adderall™. It exists as a powder and as a liquid, and you cannot see, smell or taste it. It acts extremely fast and it takes only a little bit to cause an overdose.
Because illicit fentanyl is unregulated and inconsistently mixed into drugs, it is impossible to predict how much you could get. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been using substances for years or if you really trust the person who sold them to you. For this reason, it is more important than ever to take steps to reduce the risk of a fatal overdose if you are using substances.
What are fentanyl test strips?
Fentanyl test strips are important to help people protect themselves from an overdose. Test strips, especially when paired with other harm-reduction strategies like having naloxone on hand, not using alone, and starting slow, can save lives.
Fentanyl test strips are small strips of paper that can tell you if a drug contains fentanyl. They are available for free from many public health and harm reduction organizations in Maine–find an organization near you.
If fentanyl is present in your drugs, test strips can detect it with a high degree of accuracy. Testing only a small sample of a substance can tell you if it contains fentanyl. However, it’s important to remember that test strips will not tell you how much fentanyl there is in the sample. Learn how to use fentanyl test strips.
Fentanyl test strips are an important tool for overdose prevention. Their use is backed by federal public health agencies and health experts including The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Please visit our safer use and harm reduction page for more information on preventing fatal overdoses. A key part of staying safe is reducing isolation. Having another person present means an accidental overdose could be reversed–and there are resources available to have a safety net if you are using substances alone.
Whether you are a healthcare or mental health provider, prevention specialist, first responder or a caring individual, supporting harm reduction approaches for people who use drugs will save lives and reduce accidental overdoses.
What are carfentanil and other fentanyl-like substances?
You may have also heard of “carfentanil”–a synthetic opioid that is stronger than fentanyl. Carfentanil is one of several fentanyl “analogs,” which will not show up on a fentanyl test strip. Because the drug supply is unstable and new substances will continue to arise, it is important to reduce risk of overdose with safer-use practices and always both call 9-1-1 and use naloxone for any overdose.
Learn how OPTIONS supports the safer use of substances and harm reduction.