What to know about the opioid drug responsible for a surge in overdoses

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Fentanyl is a heavily regulated legal medication, prescribed largely for pain relief in cancer patients and postsurgery.

Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg News

The opioid crisis has only intensified as more illicit drugs have entered the market. Drug overdose deaths reached a record high in 2021, with more than 100,000 people lost to the continuing epidemic, fueled by the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl. The drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times that of morphine. Illicit forms of fentanyl are mainly manufactured by drug cartels in Mexico and spreading in the U.S.

Here’s what to know about fentanyl:

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