Prince is the latest victim of the opioid epidemic.
The singer accidentally overdosed on the powerful painkiller fentanyl, according to autopsy results released Thursday.
From 1999 to 2014, over half a million Americans died from a drug overdose, and one of the power players in this epidemic is fentanyl.
Here’s what you need to know about the drug.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s legally used to treat people with severe pain, often after surgery. Any other sale of the drug is illegal.
It is partly responsible for a recent surge in overdose deaths in some parts of the United States. More than 700 fentanyl-related deaths were reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration in late 2013 and 2014, according to the Associated Press.
Why is it so dangerous?
Fentanyl is incredibly powerful — 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. In some forms it can be deadly if touched. It also works very quickly on the body.
Fentanyl can be taken in pill form or cut into heroin. People often unknowingly take fentanyl, because many drug dealers are producing fentanyl-filled pills that are made to look like other prescription painkillers and can go for a higher price on the street.
Where is all this fentanyl coming from?
Doctors can legally prescribe fentanyl for chronic pain, but there’s also a robust illegal trade of the drug.
Mexican cartels have been lacing heroin with the drug, and Chinese suppliers have been flooding North America with fentanyl. Recently, Chinese suppliers managed to import an altered version of the drug into the United States, which was technically legal to sell it as it wasn’t yet on the US government’s list of controlled substances.