KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A deadly opioid is making its way across the country and right into Tennessee. The opioid is referred to as fentanyl.

Experts say it is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), one kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.

Data shows Tennessee has seen a steady rise in deaths related to synthetic opioids. For example, in 2016 the state saw 169 deaths involving fentanyl and in 2021 the state saw 2,014.

“The problem is these analogs keep getting more and more powerful,” said Karen Pershing, the executive director for the Metro Drug Coalition. “The strength of what we’re seeing now is so much different than what we saw in 2016.”

Image of “Rainbow Fentanyl

Fentanyl, and similar opioids, aren’t just being used in illegal drugs. They’ve also been found in seemingly safe ones.

“It’s being pressed into fake pills that look like our prescription pills but are actually fentanyl,” said Pershing.

Fentanyl is also hard to detect without professional equipment. Meaning, a person can’t identify it by sight, taste or smell.

It’s also a problem seen more with teenagers.

“Teens, when they get together, sometimes will share drugs and if somebody has a bottle of pills, that they may not realize are actually fentanyl and not prescription drugs,” Pershing told WATE. “They’re not addicted to drugs at that point, but they’re experimenting, recreationally, with drugs.”

“It’s extremely important we do everything we can to try to get to individuals who may be using substances and encourage them to get into treatment into recovery,” said Pershing. “The next time you use, unfortunately, could be your last.”

Here are the steps for those who overdosed on fentanyl from experts:

  • First, call 9-1-1.
  • Use naloxone, which is “a medication that reverses opioid overdose so a person can breathe until EMS arrives.” (if available)
  • Keep the person awake and breathing.
  • Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  • Stay with them until help arrives.

A person can’t overdose by touching fentanyl, is has to enter the bloodstream.

If you suspect you’ve come into contact with fentanyl, experts say avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands with soap immediately.

Resources related to fentanyl

With the risks surrounding fentanyl getting higher, groups like the metro drug coalition are urging people, particularly parents, to raise awareness.