Fentanyl purity varies significantly in illicit pills, new analysis finds

An analysis of fentanyl pills seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the US Southwest border reveals a wide range in drug purity, highlighting the deadly unpredictability for users. Researchers at the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE) examined pills seized between 2020 and 2023.

While the average amount of fentanyl in the tablets remained relatively consistent over the four years, the concentration varied significantly from pill to pill. 

“It is possible for a person who uses drugs to encounter low purity tablets and much higher purity tablets, which poses a risk of overdose,” the researchers wrote.

The fentanyl concentration ranged from 0.012 mg to 6.6 mg per tablet. Many of the pills also contained a mixture of fentanyl and para-fluorofentanyl. As Emily’s Hope reported earlier this year, para-fluorofentanyl is a potent form of the synthetic opioid, up to five times more powerful than medically prescribed fentanyl.

“These tablets did not exhibit a clear trend, as the ratio of fentanyl to para-fluorofentanyl varied from seizure to seizure,” the researchers noted.