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Fentanyl is a power opioid pain reliever, approximately 100 times more potent that morphine and 50 percent more powerful that pure heroin. First synthesized in 1960, fentanyl is frequently used to provide palliative care for individuals with cancer. However, in recent years there has been a spate of recreational uses of fentanyl in the general public, leading to both addiction and death. Perhaps the most famous case of fentanyl abuse occurred in May 2016, when autopsy reports showed that an overdose of the drug led to the death of legendary musician Prince.

In a hospital setting, fentanyl is often administered intravenously, along with other drugs such as propofol, and used in procedures such as cardiac catheterization, endoscopy, and oral surgery. Fentanyl patches have been developed in order to provide long-lasting pain relief, as the patch administers a lower dose over a 48- to 72-hour period. These fentanyl patches are frequently used in palliative care, for patients who may have difficulty with swallowing, renal failure, or difficulty with other opioid medications.

Illicit use of fentanyl first appeared in the 1970s. Over a dozen different versions of street-grade fentanyl are known to exist in the United States, frequently leading to overdose deaths among heroin addicts, as the drug is often sold as heroin, but is far more powerful. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin, also producing spates of overdose deaths.

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