laced drugs on the rise

Laced Drugs On The Rise – Why, How & What You Need To Know

Though psychoactive substances and prescription medication have long been in circulation, we currently face a new threat with the increasing instances of laced drugs and fentanyl related overdose. Laced drugs are substances mixed with other harmful chemicals or drugs without the user’s knowledge, which can cause severe, and even fatal consequences.

What types of drugs are getting laced?

Substances such as cannabis, opioids, prescription pills, benzodiazepines, stimulants can be laced with other potent substances. When individuals administer their substance of choice, unbeknownst to them that it is laced, they unfortunately risk an overdose. Substances can be laced with fentanyl, ketamine, carfentanil, or xylazine “tranq” among others (Thankachen & Leonard, 2023). The most common laced drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and prescription drug “look-alikes” (e.g. Xanax, Adderall, oxycodone) (Thankachen & Leonard, 2023). In 2021, the DEA released a public safety announcement to alert the public about a significant increase of prescription drug “look-alikes” containing fentanyl and methamphetamine (United States Department of Justice, 2021).

What are synthetic opioids?

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are substances made in laboratories to resemble natural opioids (e.g. morphine and codeine) (U.S Drug Enforcement Administration, 2020). They work by acting like natural opioids in the brain to induce analgesia (e.g. pain relief). According to the Center for Disease Control and Preventions, synthetic opioids like fentanyl come in two forms: pharmaceutical and illegally made (National Center for Injury Prevention, 2023a). Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by medical providers to treat severe conditions like advanced cancer or severe pain following surgery.

In 2021, approximately 107,000 Americans died of drug overdose and of that amount, an estimated 71,000 overdoses involved synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2023; Spencer, Miniño, and Warner, 2022). Compared to NIH data from 2015, synthetic opioid related overdoses increased by 7.5 times in 2021. UCLA Health (2023) reports deaths caused by fentanyl laced stimulants increased more than 50-fold from 2000 to 2021.

What are drugs most commonly laced with?

The DEA reports seizing over 60 million fentanyl-laced counterfeit prescription pills in 2023. Fentanyl-laces counterfeit pills drive overdose deaths amongst teens (Friedman, Govin, Shover, 2022). About 77% of teen overdose deaths in 2021 involved fentanyl, not because of increased use but because of dangers posed by high potency fentanyl being laced with counterfeit prescription pills such as Vicodin and hydrocodone (Chatterjee, 2022).


The Center for Disease Control reports that fentanyl is fifty times stronger than heroin and one hundred times stronger than morphine, making it a significant contributor to overdoses in the United States.

Over 150 deaths are reported in the United States to be due to fentanyl overdose. A public safety alert from the DEA in 2022 warned that 6 out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills have a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from 2021 where 4 out of 10 fake prescription pills had a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl (United States Department of Justice, DEA Laboratory).

An emerging threat in the United States is drugs being laced with fentanyl and xylazine (a.k.a tranq) (National Center for Injury Prevention, 2023b). According to data analyzed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, fentanyl-laced heroin made up about 75% of heroin overdose deaths in 2021. Similarly, fentanyl-laced benzodiazepine deaths made up about 70% of all deaths involving benzodiazepines. Marijuana can be laced with psychoactive drugs such as PCP, methamphetamine, cocaine, or LSD (Watkins, 2023).

Why are drugs being laced?

  • Cross contamination of different drugs during laboratory processing
  • Drug manufacturers may find it cost effective to lace relatively weak drugs with a strong drug
  • Enhancing potency of lower-quality products so it may be sold for a higher price, leading customers to believe the powerful effect of a product is due to its high quality – thus increasing demand
  • Drug manufacturers may benefit from lacing drugs because it will cut down on the amount of product they’re using when creating the drug thus decreasing overall cost of manufacturing while increasing outgoing supply. When drugs are sold by weight, the addition of another substance contributes to the overall weight while maintaining profit as if the product was pure.
  • Cocaine laced with opioids (such as fentanyl) may increase frequency and duration of use, as people become increasingly addicted to what they think is only cocaine except it is with (also) fentanyl

Considering the potency of fentanyl, mixing or lacing illegally made fentanyl with other drugs efficiently increases the drug’s power, addictiveness, and dangerousness while maintaining the low cost of drugs. In other words, individuals can buy inexpensive drugs laced with a hint of potent fentanyl and experience maximal impact (Thankachen & Leonard, 2023).

It’s important to educate yourself about the prevalence of laced drugs and the dangers associated with it.

Laced drugs are a dangerous threat to society, and it is essential to educate ourselves and our loved ones about their dangers. The best way to protect ourselves is to stay away from drugs, but for those who are struggling with addiction, getting professional help is necessary. Depending on the state, fentanyl testing strips are available direct to consumer. By understanding and being aware of the danger of laced drugs, we can prevent ourselves and our loved ones from putting themselves in harm’s way.

At PCI, it is a central part of our mission to keep our community safe and offer educational resources. Our Family Education Night offers a space for prospective clients or their loved ones to ask questions about mental health and addiction, and what treatment can look like for them. Contact us today to learn more.


1. Chatterjee, R. (2022, April 12). Teen drug overdose deaths rose sharply in 2020, driven by fentanyl-laced pills. Shots Health News from NPR.

2. Friedman J, Godvin M, Shover CL, Gone JP, Hansen H, Schriger DL. Trends in Drug Overdose Deaths Among US Adolescents, January 2010 to June 2021. JAMA. 2022;327(14):1398–1400. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.2847

3. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Drug Overdose Prevention. (2023a, September 6). Fentanyl facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

4. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Drug Overdose Prevention. (2023b, July 17). What you should know about xylazine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

4. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Drug Overdose Prevention. (2023b, July 17). What you should know about xylazine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

5. Spencer, M. R., Miniño, A. M., & Warner, M. (2022, December 21). Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 2001–2021. National Center for Health Statistics.,rates%20from%202020%20through%202021

6. Thankachen, S., & Leonard, S. (Eds.). (2023, April 28). Laced Drugs. Healthy Life Recovery.

7. UCLA. (2023, September 13). Overdose deaths from fentanyl laced stimulants have risen 50-fold since 2010. UCLA Health.

8. United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). DEA Laboratory Testing Reveals that 6 out of 10 Fentanyl-Laced Fake Prescription Pills Now Contain a Potentially Lethal Dose of Fentanyl. United States Drug Enforcement Administration.,DEA%20Laboratory%20Testing%20Reveals%20that%206%20out%20of%2010%20Fentanyl,Potentially%20Lethal%20Dose%20of%20Fentanyl

9. United States Department of Justice. (2021, September 27). DEA issues Public Safety Alert on sharp increase in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and meth. United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

10. United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, June 30). Drug overdose death rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

11. United States Drug Enforcement Administration . (2020, April). Drug facts sheet: Synthetic opiods . Get Smart About Drugs.

12. Watkins, M. (2023, July 10). What Can Marijuana Be Laced With?. American Addiction Centers.