Six Disturbing Facts About Carfentanil

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Carfentanil, a powerful elephant tranquilizer, has recently been found in trace amounts in illegal drugs, most commonly heroin. The potent drug has been linked to a spike in drug overdose deaths in the past year. Here are some carfentanil facts that illustrate why law enforcement officials and healthcare professionals are concerned that carfentanil-laced drugs will only worsen the opioid crisis already present in the country.

Carfentanil Facts: The drug is a large animal sedative

Carfentanil is Intended for Use on Large Animals, not Humans

Carfentanil–sold under the trade name Wildnil–is a potent synthetic opioid similar to fentanyl used to sedate large animals, such as elephants, moose, and deer. The medication was developed in 1974 by a team of chemists at Janssen Pharmaceutica, and comes in the form of pills or tablets and powder.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, carfentanil is an analog to fentanyl, which is another potent synthetic opioid medication that is deadly when it is misused and abused.

Carfentanil Facts: The drug is deadly is small amounts

Touching or Inhaling a Small Amount Can be Deadly

Carfentanil is estimated to be about 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl. Carfentanil is so strong that it takes only about 2 milligrams of the substance to knock out a 2,000-pound elephant. And, the equivalent of one grain of salt of carfentanil, a powerful animal sedative, is enough to kill a human being.

Veterinarian guidelines advise that naloxone, a drug-reversal agent, be on hand when carfentanil is given to animals because of its potency. The substance is so dangerous that inhaling it or touching it can be deadly.

Carfentanil is sometimes mixed with illegal drugs such as heroin

Carfentanil Has Been Found in Heroin and Cocaine

Carfentanil has most commonly been found in cocaine and heroin, but it also can be pressed into pills that look like prescription medication. Manufacturers add the substance to street drugs to increase their supplies and boost the potency of the drugs so the high lasts longer.

It is not known for sure what other street drugs carfentanil is mixed with or how often it is mixed with those drugs or substituted for other opioids when sold in the illegal drug market. Adding carfentanil to street drugs makes the combination so deadly that some users end up overdosing on those drugs and dying from those overdoses.

Carfentanil Facts: Most users take the drug without realizing it

People Have No Way of Knowing Whether Their Drugs Have Been Laced With Carfentanil

Carfentanil is easily disguised as heroin or cocaine, as both substances resemble the odorless, colorless drug, so many users unknowingly ingest it because they cannot detect its presence in the drug they thought they were taking.

The smallest drop of the substance is deadly, even a grain of it, so it is quite easy to overdose on such a powerful drug. Even people who are properly trained to use it as well as first responders wear protective gear to guard against its effects. Its potency has led to many fatal overdoses.

Carfentanil Facts: It can cause deadly overdoes

Carfentanil-Laced Heroin Has Been Linked to Scores of Overdoses in Ohio and Florida

Carfentanil cases have been reported from states throughout the country, including Ohio, Florida, and Michigan. According to a National Public Radio report, suspected cases involving carfentanil were first reported in Hamilton County, Ohio, which is the Cincinnati area, in July 2016.

During a six-day window, health and law enforcement officials saw 174 cases of overdoses on heroin believed to be cut with carfentanil, an “unprecedented” number, and a medical emergency that overwhelmed first responders.

Carfentanil-laced heroin also has turned up in Florida. The Miami Heraldreported that in 2016, Miami-Dade police’s crime lab detected carfentanil in at least 53 drug seizures, and all but 19 in mixtures with other drugs. A November 2016 press release from the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that “new laboratory testing strongly suggests that a suspected 53 recent deaths handled by the Broward County Office of Medical Examiner and Trauma Services are due to Carfentanil….”

Carfentanil Facts: Anti-overdose aren't always effective

Drugs That Revive People After an Overdose Aren’t Always Effective

A National Public Radioarticle published in September 2016 highlighted the challenges of first responders and emergency room workers who aim to revive people who have overdosed on drugs that contained carfentanil. A health official told NPR that a drug high from carfentanil is long-lasting and that it can take hours for the human body to metabolize the drug.

This means naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, doesn’t always work when attempting to save a person’s life. This drug, also known as Narcan, works by increasing the rate of lowered respiration and blood pressure that is commonly seen in deadly opioid overdoses.

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Elysia Richardson
Digital Content Editor

Elysia L. Richardson is a content writer and editor who covers addiction and substance abuse for Delphi Behavioral Health Group. Previously a writer and editor for various digital and print publications, she enjoys researching news in the recovery field and finding engaging ways to share information that helps improve people’s lives.

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