It’s not like any of us really thought the drug epidemic would get better overnight. It’s just that we thought we might be seeing the depths of the despair, and have been busy increasing treatment options to help the cause. The half a million Americans who died from drug overdoses between 2000 to 2014 seemed astronomical. Sadly, it could be about to get worse.
Now, communities everywhere should be on high alert for a synthetic opiate called carfentanil. This drug has the ability to decimate us, quite literally. And it’s being added to heroin across the nation.
Why is carfentanil so dangerous?
1. Carfentanil is an analog (version) of fentanyl, the painkiller that most recently made headlines as the cause of the overdose death of musician Prince. Most often used as a large animal sedative, carfentanil is highly restricted for veterinarians and capable of immobilizing an African elephant that weighs between 5,000 and 14,000 pounds. To be more precise, 5 milligrams of the drug can knock out an elephant that is about 26 to 72 times heavier than the average man.
2. Carfentanil is 10,000 times stronger than morphine, and at least 100 times more powerful than its analog, the opioid fentanyl. To be clear, there is no approved human use for carfentanil. It is used to sedate large animals such as elephants or moose.
3. This extremely potent opioid is odorless and colorless and can be absorbed through skin contact, inhalation, oral exposure, or ingestion, which may lead to an accidental drug poisoning. First responders and emergency room workers who routinely work with overdose victims are even being told to wear protective gloves and masks, according to NPR. A dose the size of a grain of salt could kill a person even if just absorbed through the skin.
5. It can be quite profitable for drug dealers – and more deadly for users. According to a DEA Intelligence Brief, users may not even realize they are taking the drug, as dealers have been cutting heroin with it for an extra boost and to stretch their supply. Some users might seek carfentanil out for its longer-lasting high – it can take hours for the body to metabolize it, far longer than other opioids. Unfortunately, it also means that when someone overdoses, it’s more difficult to revive them and save their life even with naloxone (Narcan), the emergency medication used to block the effects of opioids.
6. It’s (relatively) cheap and easy to make. The DEA report stated categorically that the availability of synthetic drugs will continue to grow in the near term due, in large part, to the relative ease and low cost associated with obtaining the drugs and the equipment needed to manufacture them. Much of the carfentanil being sold on the streets is illicitly imported from China, brought in by Mexican drug traffickers, or simply purchased online. It will continue to appear in counterfeit opioid medications, and will likely appear in a variety of non-opiate drugs as traffickers seek to expand the market in search of higher profits.
Seven hundred people died from fentanyl overdoses between 2013-2014. And carfentanil is 100 times more potent? Do the math. Then spread the word.
Addiction is a chronic, debilitating disease that ignites an insatiable quest for the next best high. Carfentanil almost ensures that it will be someone’s last.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.