We now have yet another synthetic opioid spreading through our states, and it’s more dangerous than many of the other drugs out there. It’s called carfentanil, and it’s been the cause of a large number of overdoses and, unfortunately, many deaths as well.
Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is powdery and white. It looks similar to heroin or cocaine. Carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
One of the scariest dangers of carfentanil is that dealers are now cutting heroin with this treacherous drug and passing it off as pure heroin without you knowing about it. When you think you are getting only heroin, you could be sadly mistaken.
As you probably already know, heroin by itself is highly addictive and the possibility of overdose is great. And in many cases, it is laced or cut with other drugs and chemicals, which increase its impact and danger to you.
Unfortunately, you now have the increased likelihood of heroin being combined with the staggering potency of carfentanil, which dramatically increases the potential of death. Since there is now a very real chance that heroin is laced with this extremely lethal drug, the effects of it can overwhelm your body’s systems rapidly.
Carfentanil: An Overview
So, exactly what is carfentanil? Previously known by the tradename Wildnil, this drug is a clone of fentanyl, another synthetic opioid analgesic. It was first synthesized by Janssen Pharmaceutical’s team of chemists in 1974. Because of its high potency, it was manufactured to be a large animal tranquilizer, which could immobilize large animals very quickly.
Think of a 15,000-pound wild African elephant, which is as much as 75 times the weight of a 200-pound adult man. It only takes very small quantities (as little as a 10-milligram dose) of this animal tranquilizer to sedate, or even kill, an animal of this size. This is what zoo veterinarians use.
In fact, carfentanil is so powerful that it’s been said to have been allegedly intended for use by the Russian military as a chemical weapon, and is not approved in the United States for human use.
Dangers of Carfentanil to You
Carfentanil poses significant dangers to you if you take it since it’s extremely potent, easy to disguise and absorbing it on the skin or inhaling it can be fatal.
Carfentanil is now being illegally distributed on the streets and is believed to be much more potent than all the other types of opiate substances being marketed. It’s said that carfentanil is:
- 100 times stronger than fentanyl
- 10,000 times stronger than morphine
In fact, according to the Oregon Poison Center, two people have already overdosed on this powerful opioid recently. Thankfully, they were both able to be resuscitated.
But, as the poison center’s medical director, Dr. Zane Horowitz, puts it, the first time you use this drug is the last time you use it since it doesn’t take much of the drug to cause a fatal outcome.
Carfentanil, due to its extreme potency, is used strictly for:
- Wildlife science management programs
- Research purposes
- Veterinary practices
The misuse of carfentanil in animals can cause severe cardiovascular and respiratory complications. Only qualified professionals should be handling this substance, and only then with the appropriate care and in the right environment. Nevertheless, this drug could be used by people without their knowledge, which is very frightening since you’re essentially playing a Russian roulette game every time you go to use heroin.
You think you are getting heroin alone, but, in reality, there’s a chance of you getting a combination of carfentanil and heroin without knowing. This is because carfentanil is practically impossible to detect. It’s a clear liquid that’s highly water-soluble and doesn’t have any distinguishable odor.
Since the drug is colorless, odorless and in liquid form, it’s undetectable to recreational drug users, making it hard for them to know what drugs they’re actually taking or the amount they are taking. When users think they are getting fentanyl or heroin, they could be ingesting or shooting up a much stronger analog.
Just like fentanyl has caused a series of deaths by being mixed into the bags of heroin, carfentanil is now hitting the streets just as fast to intensify the effects of heroin. In addition, some opioid users who use regularly and have built up a tolerance to the drug are looking to intensify the effects of their heroin use by chasing down dealers who are promising a more dramatic effect. What they don’t realize is that this two-cocktail bag of heroin can be deadly.
Inhaling or Absorbing It on Skin Can Be Deadly
Adding to what is already a scary situation, your increased risk does not stop at intentionally ingesting or injecting the drug. You now have to worry about inhaling it or having it absorb into your skin, which can be just as deadly. In fact, police officers are urged to not conduct heroin field tests because of the toxicity of carfentanil.
DEA officials are now saying that dealers are even offering Narcan (naloxone) to their customers when they purchase their batches of “intense” heroin. This is a drug that’s supposed to reverse an overdose. They even go so far as to administer the Narcan themselves to their overdosing customers. However, you might not be saved this time with Narcan. It’s a frightening thought that you might not be revived in the event of an overdose with an opiate overdose antidote.
Dangers of Carfentanil to Medical Personnel
Carfentanil is a Schedule II opioid analgesic that shouldn’t ever be used or handled without the right authorization. People who are authorized to handle this substance still need to do so with care, and they need to be in a facility that has been approved by Drug Enforcement Agency regulations.
Although EMS is usually prepared with the right type of protective gear (like gloves), when it comes time to help a heroin overdose victim, law enforcement and bystanders are not, and even if they want to help, they may not be able to.
Accidental Exposure or Overdose
Law enforcement and first responders are at grave risk when on the scene of an overdose, since this powerful drug is easily inhaled or absorbed through the skin. In order to resuscitate an overdose victim, when they handle an emergency carfentanil situation, first responders have to use protective equipment like gloves and masks. This includes friends, family members, and passersby, because, without protective gear, they risk accidentally inhaling or touching the substance that can affect them.
Since carfentanil is proven to be fatal through accidental exposure and misuse, strict cautionary measures have been put in place for qualified people when handling this substance.
- Organizations implementing wildlife programs and veterinary practices should keep the Naltrexone HCL drug, which is a carfentanil citrate reversal agent, on hand.
- Qualified veterinarians who are administering this drug to animals need to be experienced and educated in the clinical procedures that involve the drug. They also need to have the ability to provide appropriate interventions when necessary.
Dr. Kimberly Cook, director of the Akron Zoo in Ohio, also works with this powerful animal tranquilizer when larger zoo animals have to be sedated. She knows how potent the drug is and is properly trained (as well as her staff) to handle it in the right manner.
Cook says she realizes how dangerous the drug is, and says she and her staff even wear eye protection because she’s worried about even the smallest drop getting into the eye. She also says they wear gloves and long sleeves and have the reversal drug Narcan on hand. Her supply of carfentanil is locked away, is very limited, and is subject to auditing.
In one particular case published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, a veterinarian was splashed in the mouth and eyes with a dart that contained 1.5mg of this potent drug (along with another type of drug) and felt very drowsy only two minutes after. He was rushed to the hospital and was given the drug naltrexone (100 mg) to reverse the effects. He had to stay at the hospital for observation for 24 hours and then was discharged.
Signs and Symptoms of Carfentanil Abuse
Your body will reach toxic levels rapidly since carfentanil is so potent. Carfentanil symptoms you experience from abusing the drug are similar to those of overdose and toxicity of opioids. They include:
- Absent or shallow breathing
- Pinned or pinpoint pupils
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lethargy, dizziness or sedation
- Clammy, cold skin
- Loss of consciousness
- Absent or weak pulse and/or heart failure
When your breathing becomes shallow or absent with carfentanil abuse, it’s a sign your respiratory system is depressed. This can lead you to having an oxygen deficiency in your body known as hypoxia. Unfortunately, this often quickly leads to complete cardiac arrest, followed by death.
Key Statistics About Carfentanil Use
Carfentanil’s potency is up to 20 times greater than sufentanil, a drug usually given for anesthesia at 5-20 μg/kg IV.
It only takes one microgram of Carfentanil in humans for an effect.
Other key statistics about Carfentanil usage come from news headlines. The drug has been making alarming news headlines as of late which you should be aware of, including these:
Carfentanil Overdoses in Northeast Ohio
A public health warning released by Ohio officials stated that the animal sedative, carfentanil, has been detected in Cuyahoga County and has been linked to numerous overdoses in the state. In a statement made by Dr. Thomas Gilson, Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, carfentanil poses a present and clear danger to the community and is unsafe for human use.
There were around 228 cases of fentanyl or heroin overdose fatalities in 2015. Carfentanil is just another problem the county has to face.
Trafficking Charges Brought Up Against a Calgary Man
Both the Eastern US and Canadian law enforcement units have put out advisory warnings about heroin batches being tainted, as well as carfentanil being sold as a drug by itself. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Border Services Agency announced in a news conference that they found a box that was labeled as printer accessories with carfentanil hidden inside it.
It was addressed to a 24-year-old Calgary man. They charged him with one count of possession with the intent of trafficking and one count of controlled substance importing. According to the authorities, the package contained drugs to produce 50 million doses.
Overdoses Hit Akron, Ohio
Within a three-week period, police in Akron, Ohio reported 236 drug overdoses logged by paramedics. There’s been a spike in heroin overdoses, which are thought to be linked to carfentanil being mixed in with heroin. The Akron Beacon Journal stated that this was nearly the number they had seen in the first six months of the year. Akron Police Department’s Lt. Rick Edwards said it was hard to know for certain without toxicology reports, but they suspected it was due to the carfentanil drug.
Ohio police were urged by General Mike DeWine, Ohio’s Attorney General, to stop conducting on-the-scene drug field testing, for fear that these substances were more powerful than they knew and handling them could jeopardize the lives of the officers.
Carfentanil Linked Overdoses in Other US States
Western Pennsylvania prosecutors came out with a similar warning to their police officers, stating that the region experienced over 200 recent overdoses with 20 of them being fatal. All were linked to carfentanil. Series of overdoses in Florida and Kentucky this year have also been linked to the drug.
In Akron, Ohio, over a three-day period, there were 25 overdoses of carfentanil with four of them being fatal. There were also 10 overdoses, which included two fatal overdoses, in Columbus, that happened inside a nine-hour window.
In central Ohio, a man was indicted for distributing this drug as heroin. He faced 20 counts, which included nine overdoses and one death (murder) occurring within hours of one another. The survivors stated that they were under the impression they were purchasing heroin only.
In July of 2016, there were over 230 overdoses in Akron, with 20 of them being fatal. Akron authorities said, in some of these cases that carfentanil was found.
How Carfentanil Is More Deadly Than Heroin
As mentioned earlier, dealers are now using the carfentanil opioid to cut heroin to make the effect more intense. if you’re an opioid user, you start to develop a tolerance for your drug of choice and start looking for a more intense high. What you may not know is that intense high can come with some deadly consequences.
So: how much more deadly is carfentanil than heroin?
Consider fentanyl. It’s already up to 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine. And even at extremely low levels, fentanyl is life-threatening. In fact, it was the highest-potency opiate for human use on the market, until now. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
Now, consider the fact that it only takes a small amount of this drug to sedate a bear, elephant or other large animals. Just a couple of grains (the size of rice) of carfentanil, when injected or snorted, can cause your breathing to stop — instantly. Can you see why it’s not approved for human use? Even the tiniest dose can become fatal rapidly.
In fact, this drug is so powerful, it was referenced in the 1997 movie “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” as being used to tranquilize the Tyrannosaurus rex.
With heroin, it only takes a dose of the drug Naloxone to reverse an overdose. Not so with carfentanil, which requires multiple doses and, in some cases, is completely ineffective.
What Is the Proper Treatment for Carfentanil?
If a loved one has overdosed on carfentanil, their airway needs to be adjusted to let in the proper airflow. Keep in mind, however, that by doing this, you’ll be exposed to the deadly drug yourself.
Therefore, you need to stay away from your loved one and call the proper authorities to treat the overdose. They will administer the proper dose of Narcan, but it will take more than a couple of shots of it. They will also have on the right type of protective wear.
If you’re the person abusing drugs, you have to take extreme caution. Although taking street drugs like heroin is a risk in itself, you now have to be even more cautious about the substances you’re putting into your body. You just don’t know anymore what you’re actually getting.
After getting immediate treatment for your overdose (or your loved one’s), it’s time to get into an effective treatment program for substance abuse addictions. You might not think you have a carfentanil addiction, but it’s likely you’re addicted to the heroin or other substance you’re taking. Therefore, it’s likely you will have a dual diagnosis and comorbid behavioral health challenges that need to be addressed.
The Importance of Getting Immediate Treatment From an Experienced Recovery Center
You’re putting your health in danger no matter what drugs you use. If your drug use is making you feel overwhelmed and you feel you have lost control or can’t make good decisions anymore for your body and mind, you should seek help at a treatment program.
This is also true if you have a loved one that abuses drugs. Your loved one can’t make healthy decisions anymore and needs help. At JourneyPure At The River, we can help you (or your loved one) get on a healthier path by supporting and educating you on healthy and positive choices.
The first step is detox and is a necessary step to begin recovery. You’ll go through a medically assisted detox program here at JourneyPure At The River to reduce your carfentanil symptoms, or symptoms for other substances, while you go through withdrawal. Our staff are trained and experienced at helping you withdraw safely from one or more substances — and to prepare you for your next steps to your recovery.
We are a state-of-the-art facility where you receive a personalized treatment plan based on your unique needs. Ours is not a cookie cutter approach. We also involve your entire family, since drug addiction affects everyone — not just you.
Our team is made up of mental health technicians and nurses, a clinical supervisor, a psychiatrist, and our medical director. You’re in great hands here and will be provided with around-the-clock healthcare as you get through the scary and tiring process of detox.
While detoxing, you’ll likely go through some severe carfentanil symptoms (similar to the symptoms of any substance addiction) such as:
- Changes in appetite
Take comfort in knowing that we will guide you through these symptoms safely and properly. After your detox, you’ll begin counseling sessions (family, group and individual) — all of which are a huge part of your success with recovery.
There is no limit to the amount of care we provide. We make ourselves available 24/7 so you always have a trained and experienced staff member at your side when needed.
If you or a loved one is ready to finally get the help you need to overcome a carfentanil addiction, call us or come see us here at JourneyPure At The River. We are your first step in your ideal treatment and successful recovery. You can’t and shouldn’t do this alone. You need a reliable and safe support system to be by your side during this trying time.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.