(Winter 2016) Carfentanil, an extremely strong drug typically used for tranquilizing large animals, is now being mixed with heroin and sold in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana and Florida. The synthetic drug, which is cheap to make, is suspected to be the source of an unprecedented number of overdoses within these states. Ohio authorities issued a public health emergency after overdoses in the Buckeye State were linked with the substance in August and September, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) said that communities throughout the country should be prepared for the drug’s arrival.
Carfentanil is in the same drug class as fentanyl, heroin and the prescription medication oxycodone, all of which act as tranquilizers and block pain but also slow breathing functions. It is 2,500 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more powerful than the already lethal fentanyl. Carfentanil is so potent that just a few of its dust particles can be deadly. First responders and emergency room workers have been instructed to wear masks and protective gloves because simply touching or inhaling carfentanil can be hazardous.
As we have reported earlier, fentanyl has been on the rise over the past few years, cut into heroin and formed into counterfeit painkiller pills, then sold to unsuspecting users on the streets. Now carfentanil, most likely smuggled into the country from China, is being used as filler in these same drugs. Sadly, unsuspecting users of cafentanil-laced substances are overdosing in large numbers each day. For instance, an official in Newtown, Ohio said he has seen daily overdoses increase from four or five to as many as 50. A rash of more than 100 overdose deaths within a two-week period this summer, concentrated in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, have been attributed to carfentanil. Cincinnati, Cleveland and Akron have been hard hit in the Buckeye State, and the drug is now seeping into the Toledo area as well.
Unlike other opioids, carfentanil takes much longer to metabolize, leading to a prolonged high. Naloxone is not as effective as an overdose antidote against this drug, needed as much as 10 times the normal dosage to revive a user. Another aspect to consider is that, up to this point, overdoses have mainly involved heroin users. However, those abusing prescription opioids are now in danger as well, since illegally-sold painkillers may be lethal fakes.
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