Fentanyl is a powerful opioid anesthetic and analgesic, the use of which has caused an increasing public health threat in the United States and elsewhere. Fentanyl was initially approved and used for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, especially cancer pain. However, recent years have seen a growing concern that fentanyl and its analogs are widely synthesized in laboratories and adulterated with illicit supplies of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit pills, contributing to the exponential growth in the number of drug-related overdose deaths. This review summarizes the recent epidemic and evolution of illicit fentanyl use, its pharmacological mechanisms and side effects, and the potential clinical management and prevention of fentanyl-related overdoses. Because social, economic, and health problems that are related to the use of fentanyl and its analogs are growing, there is an urgent need to implement large-scale safe and effective harm reduction strategies to prevent fentanyl-related overdoses.