Why is Heroin Cut with Fentanyl?

Dealers often cut heroin with fentanyl because fentanyl is cheaper than heroin and is stronger, lighter, and easier to smuggle.

Heroin is an illicit opioid that has become increasingly popular in the United States. Its rise in popularity recently has partly to do with the regulations on obtaining other prescription opioids; it is cheaper and easier to obtain.

Fentanyl is a powerful prescription opioid that has become increasingly popular in the United States. It is normally used to treat severe pain after surgery or for those that have developed a tolerance to other opioids. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than Morphine. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, which means it is artificial. It is manufactured rather easily in illegal labs and also in pharmaceutical laboratories. Most of the fentanyl in the U.S. comes from Mexico and China.

Why is Heroin Cut with Fentanyl?

Reasons for cutting heroin with fentanyl

There are a few reasons why heroin is cut with fentanyl. Dealers often cut heroin because fentanyl is cheaper than heroin and is lighter and easier to smuggle. Most importantly, fentanyl is much more powerful than heroin, so you need less to pack a strong punch. Also, there is a shortage of heroin and a growing amount of fentanyl coming from Mexico and China. Street-level dealers will cut heroin with fentanyl to maximize their profits. They can stretch out the heroin they have much longer when cutting it, which means they are making a lot more money. Another reason is that it only takes a tiny dose of the mixture to produce a powerful euphoria.

According to the National Institutes of Health:

Commonly, retail heroin is ‘cut,’ either with diluents to add weight and stretch the substance, or adulterants, to improve uptake of the heroin, complement its effects or address a side-effect (e.g. diphenhydramine for itching). High levels of ‘cut’ do not necessarily dissuade users from purchasing heroin, although responses vary: the addition of psychoactive adulterants is appealing to some users while others show hostility. (NIH)

Anytime you get drugs off the street, you are taking a huge risk with your life. No one knows what is in these substances, and most dealers will do anything to make as much money as possible. This may sound quite harsh, but they don’t care about what they sell and give you.

Heroin and Fentanyl Overdoses

Overdose and overdose fatalities have skyrocketed over the last few years, and one of the causes is substances being cut with fentanyl. Buyers are purchasing what they believe to be heroin or another substance and getting a deadly mixture. Statistics produced by the NIH show a steady rise in overdose deaths involving heroin and fentanyl.

Drug overdose deaths involving heroin rose from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,469 in 2016. Since 2016, the number of deaths has remained steady with 14,996 deaths reported in 2018. The number of deaths involving heroin in combination with synthetic narcotics has been increasing steadily since 2014 and shows that the increase in deaths involving heroin is driven by the use of fentanyl. (NIH)

Reports have been out for a few years about illicit substances being mixed with fentanyl and the rise in overdose deaths. But unfortunately, this hasn’t scared enough people with addiction issues to seek treatment; it’s still happening.

Signs and Symptoms of a Heroin or Fentanyl Overdose

Sometimes you can reverse a heroin/fentanyl overdose if you catch it and act immediately. If you are near or with someone and witness any of the following signs and symptoms, call 911 right away or get them to the emergency room.

  • Limp body
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to speak
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow breathing
  • Difficulty waking up from sleep
  • Blue or purple lips or fingernails
  • Extremely pale face

Unfortunately, very few people who overdose on heroin cut with fentanyl make it to the emergency room.

Can You Treat a Heroin and Fentanyl Overdose?

There is a drug called Narcan (Naloxone) that has proven to be effective with opioid overdoses if it’s administered right away. Narcan is now available in the United States without a prescription from your doctor. Anyone can purchase the nasal spray directly from your pharmacist. If you have loved ones with heroin or other opioid addiction, it may not be a bad idea to have Narcan on hand.

Narcan attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain and stops the effects of heroin. Also, Narcan works almost immediately after it is administered. Anyone given Narcan needs to be monitored for at least 2 hours to ensure their breathing is normal. If you administer Narcan to anyone, they still need to be taken to the emergency department immediately after it has been given.

Treatment for Heroin and Fentanyl Addiction

Of course, the best way to prevent a heroin/fentanyl overdose is to seek treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Absolute Awakenings tailors their treatment to each unique patient. Recovery is not a one size fits all approach, so we provide individualized care. So what are you waiting for? Call us today!


  1. Huecker MR, Koutsothanasis GA, Abbasy MSU, Marraffa J. Heroin. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 17, 2023. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441876/
  2. Ramos-Matos CF, Bistas KG, Lopez-Ojeda W. Fentanyl. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 17, 2023. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459275/
  3. Mars SG, Ondocsin J, Ciccarone D. Sold As Heroin: Perceptions and Use of an Evolving Drug in Baltimore, MD. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2018;50(2):167-176. doi:10.1080/02791072.2017.1394508
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose Death Rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published January 20, 2022. Accessed January 17, 2023. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  5. Jordan MR, Morrisonponce D. Naloxone. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 17, 2023. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441910/
Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Infinite RecoveryAscendant NY, The Heights Treatment, New Waters RecoveryGallus DetoxRecovery UnpluggedOcean RecoveryRefresh Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed January 17, 2023