The Basics of Fentanyl

Jun 22, 2020

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid and is responsible for many deaths across the world. Since the introduction of fentanyl has been relatively recent, testing regulations and remediation protocols are scarce. In this blog, we will discuss the basics of this substance, testing methods, and remediation practices. 

Basics of Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is prescribed for pain management and anesthesia. It typically can appear as a dust or liquid. While many other opioids are synthesized from morphine, fentanyl and its analogues are derived from meperidine, also known as Demerol. Illicitly-made fentanyl in clandestine settings can sometimes be the analogues, such as carfentanil or many others. The rise of analogues can make testing in commercial laboratories difficult due to the chemical differences of these new compounds. According to the CDC, it is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.  It is typically prescribed orally through lozenges or dermally with patches. However, fentanyl can be clandestinely made and used recreationally. Clandestine manufacturing can render properties and vehicles that were used as manufacturing sites uninhabitable.

Illicit fentanyl usage was in part responsible for the third wave of the US opioid epidemic, as it can be found in other substances such as heroin, MDMA, and other illicit substances. The substance is so potent that a dose as low as two milligrams can be fatal for a naive user. The EPA refers to a naive user as someone who doesn’t use the drug or a similar method of usage. Simply touching the substance in dust form can cause drastic health effects. The CDC has released a video showing a first responder collapse due to touching a fentanyl contaminated towel.

Fentanyl Sampling & Testing

Sampling is conducted similarly to other illicit substances using the NIOSH 9111 method. NIOSH 9111 uses liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry to analyze the substance and is designed for methamphetamines. This method involves collecting wipe samples from horizontal surfaces, typically with an alcohol-based wipe provided from a commercial laboratory. The wipes collect a sample over a 100-1,000 square centimeter area. There are no federal regulations on what amount of fentanyl is considered to be acceptable. Similarly to methamphetamine, the presence at the detection limit — which is 0.1 micrograms per 100 square centimeters — will require action to be taken.  

Fentanyl Remediation

Like methamphetamine and other recent illicit substances, there are no federal guidelines for remediation of fentanyl. While the EPA has developed voluntary guidelines for methamphetamine cleanup and for other hazardous substances, they have not for fentanyl as they say it behaves differently due to its dust-like nature and the ability for “low exposure” to be fatal. The EPA has listed a data sheet on the compound along with a protocol that references an academic paper on how to neutralize the compound. One of the resources describes using peroxides and hypochlorites (bleach) to break down the substance. It is also recommended that narcan (naloxone), an antidote, be present to reverse the physical effects of the substance if exposure were to occur. 

In conclusion, as with many other recent illicit substances, information on exposure guidelines and remediation are scarce and may require relying on information from commercial laboratories, law enforcement, EPA researchers, and environmental consultants. If you suspect fentanyl or other illicit substances at your property, Indoor Science can provide testing