You may have seen some recent articles on the RAYSAC News page about fentanyl, but what exactly is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine, but up to 100 times more powerful. Fentanyl can be prescribed by a doctor to treat pain, but because it is so powerful, it is also illegally manufactured and sold. Fentanyl is so strong that very small doses can cause an overdose or death.

Recently, criminal drug organizations have been adding fentanyl as an ingredient in their counterfeit pills to increase their profits on the black market. However, a person may think these pills are authentic painkillers, when they are actually fakes that contain fentanyl. This can lead to unintentional overdose or death. In fact, according to a Virginia Department of Health report, fentanyl was involved in 71% of all drug overdose deaths in the state in 2020. The number of fentanyl overdose deaths has risen sharply over the past 5 years.¹

Unfortunately, social media has made it easier for dealers to sell drugs online, even to youth. Drug dealers can create anonymous profiles to sell illegal pills (potentially containing lethal amounts of fentanyl), often using coded messages and emojis.

DEA illustration of 2 milligrams of fentanyl next to a penny.
Image source: Drug Enforcement Administration (
“Unfortunately, our kids are much more savvy with social media than we are. And they are the ones we see finding this stuff and dying from it. We must spread the word and stop this from happening in our communities.”
Jarod Forget

Special Agent in Charge, DEA Washington Division, Quoted at this link²

So what can we do about this fentanyl problem?

First, protect yourself by only taking medicine as instructed. Follow the directions on the medicine’s label, and do not share prescriptions. Talk to your doctor about the medicines you take; ask about their side effects and interactions with other substances. Do not take pills if you are not sure they came from a licensed pharmacy.

Next, have a conversation with the youth and young adults in your life. Share reliable information with them about the risks of fentanyl, counterfeit pills, and drug misuse. Have a conversation about social media and how youth can protect themselves online. If you are a parent or guardian, monitor your kids’ online habits and consider using parental control settings to block unsafe websites. You can also learn about the latest social media trends and what different emojis mean. The DEA has listed some examples of emojis used to sell drugs online at this link:

Finally, share this information with others. You can help raise awareness of the dangers of illicit fentanyl and ways we can protect each other. And if you would like to get rid of any unwanted medications in your home, visit to find a secure disposal box location near you.


1. Virginia Department of Health, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. (Jan 2022). Fatal drug overdose quarterly report – 3rd quarter 2021.

2. DEA Washington Division, Public Information Office. (Feb 16, 2022). Fentanyl deaths climbing, DEA Washington continues the fight. 


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