5 times we had the wrong discussion about fentanyl — and what we should be talking about instead

Discover 5 misconceptions about fentanyl that are hindering progress in the opioid crisis and learn what we should be talking about instead.

Ophelia team
Fentanyl myths and facts
Icon of shield with check mark inside
Fact checked by
Arthur Robin Williams, MD

Fentanyl has taken center stage in the nation's discussion on opioid addiction, but that doesn’t mean the conversation has been helpful or productive. Hyperbole and falsehoods about fentanyl obscure the drug's real dangers and stand in the way of meaningful progress.

The first step to getting the discussion back on track is to debunk the exaggerated tales and misinformation. Then, we can get to the truth and talk about what people should be focusing on. Correcting the record isn’t just about proving a point—allowing false beliefs to persist is costing people their lives.

5 times public discourse around fentanyl missed the mark

1. Fentanyl poses a risk to first responders

Reports of police or emergency medical technicians (EMTs) overdosing because they accidentally touch or inhale fentanyl when responding to emergencies are grossly exaggerated. Unfortunately, this false belief may leave first responders afraid to intervene when fentanyl overdose is suspected.

Research has shown that, in many incidents reported as "fentanyl exposure" among law enforcement, the symptoms exhibited were more aligned with those of a panic attack than an overdose. Educating first responders about this misconception is a must. In reality, the risk of fentanyl overdose via transdermal exposure is nearly impossible.

2. Standard protection protocols don't work with fentanyl

This myth goes with the falsehoods surrounding fentanyl's risk to first responders. There is a false idea that personal protective equipment (PPE) doesn't provide adequate safeguards against fentanyl exposure, putting other medical personnel at risk. In reality, PPE can protect against drug powder exposure.

Again, the key to debunking this myth safely is education. Fentanyl doesn’t get absorbed into the skin, but inhalation or contact with a mucous membrane—like the eyes, nose, or mouth—can present a risk. PPE works, provided it's worn correctly. That includes gloves, safety eyewear, and respiratory protection that's properly fitted and worn correctly. Additionally, people shouldn't wear powdered gloves, as the powder on the gloves can absorb drug powders, resulting in cross-contamination.

3. Rainbow fentanyl is designed to lure kids

"Rainbow fentanyl" is a term coined by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in August 2022. It refers to a variation of fentanyl that resembles popular candies, supposedly to entice kids. Many communities and schools in the country were on high alert about "rainbow fentanyl" in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

But there is no concrete evidence for the DEA's claim that rainbow fentanyl is meant to entice kids. Stories of children being given drugs while trick-or-treating have circulated for decades, with scant proof. These rumors also ignore the simple fact that the aim of the drug trade is to make money, which most kids don't have much of.

4. Naloxone doesn't work against fentanyl

Naloxone can counteract the effects of an opioid overdose and save lives. Rumors that naloxone can't help in case of a fentanyl overdose are putting people at risk. The truth is that naloxone is a safe, effective countermeasure for fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. This is essential since fentanyl may be mixed into other drugs.

The key is to administer naloxone as quickly as possible when an overdose is suspected. Additional doses may be necessary if signs of overdose reappear. Further, it’s important to always call for emergency medical assistance since the effects of naloxone can be short-lived. First responders can also test for fentanyl, which is notoriously hard to identify.

5. Fentanyl addiction is a lost cause

Fentanyl is a powerfully addictive substance. When people stop taking the drug, they may experience debilitating withdrawal symptoms, including muscle aches, fever, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and insomnia. People often assume it's impossible for someone with opioid use disorder (OUD) to get past withdrawal and conquer their addiction.

In fact, there are effective treatment options available that can help people overcome OUD. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the most rigorously studied method that's proven effective. This approach helps patients manage withdrawal-related cravings, so the need for another high doesn’t dictate their daily lives.

Help for fentanyl and other opioids without the BS

Ophelia brings MAT to you in a way that fits into your life. You’ll be connected with a care team online and have access to support seven days a week, no travel required. Our care teams include experienced coordinators, clinicians, and peers who know exactly what you're going through because of their own past experiences.

During your welcome call, we’ll determine buprenorphine-naloxone treatment is right for you and send a prescription to your local pharmacy. We partner with many major insurers and state Medicaid providers to cover the costs of Suboxone® and virtual treatment sessions. Don't have insurance? Prefer not to use benefits for privacy purposes? You can count on transparent out-of-pocket pricing—no billing surprises.

Ophelia makes it easier to access the care you need, when and where you need it, so find out if you're a candidate.


Treatment that works is right at your fingertips.

Get started