Fentanyl Exposure Among Patients Seeking Opioid Treatment

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2019 Jan;96:23-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2018.10.007. Epub 2018 Oct 17.


Aim: Overdoses attributed to the potent opioid agonist fentanyl have substantially increased in recent years. Despite these serious public health consequences, many opioid treatment providers do not currently include a fentanyl assay in their urine toxicology testing. As a result, extent of fentanyl exposure and related risks among individuals with opioid use disorder often remains unknown. We examined the prevalence of fentanyl exposure among patients seeking or enrolled in opioid agonist treatment.

Methods: Six hundred urine specimens were collected from adults entering (n = 100) or enrolled in (n = 500) opioid agonist treatment and analyzed using the clinic's standard opioid panel, supplemented with a 100 ng/ml fentanyl assay.

Results: Of the 100 specimens collected from patients at treatment intake, 19 (19%) tested positive for fentanyl. Importantly, 17 (90%) of those fentanyl-positive specimens were also positive for heroin. Of the 500 collected from patients in treatment, 17 (3%) of specimens tested positive for fentanyl. Of those, 11 (92%) were also positive for heroin.

Conclusion: These data illustrate a concerning degree of fentanyl exposure among patients seeking treatment and suggest that much of this exposure may have stemmed from fentanyl-containing heroin. Given the unprecedented recent surges in fentanyl-related overdoses, efforts to identify fentanyl exposure are critical. In particular, the point of treatment entry permits a rare systematic opportunity for medical and clinical staff to address fentanyl use and risks with incoming patients.

Keywords: Agonist maintenance; Buprenorphine; Fentanyl; Methadone; Opioid use disorder; Overdose.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Fentanyl / urine*
  • Heroin Dependence / rehabilitation*
  • Heroin Dependence / urine
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / urine
  • Prevalence
  • Substance Abuse Detection*


  • Fentanyl