As the opioid crisis only continues to worsen, with new reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a 30 percent increase in opioid overdoses across the country from 2016 to 2017, more people who have become dependent on prescription opioids are switching to heroin. The reasons for this spike in heroin use are mainly due to its increased potency and the fact that it is often cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription painkillers like OxyContin or morphine.
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While this is plenty concerning in its own right, there is an even greater danger associated with this switch from prescription opioids to illicit ones, and that is the increasing frequency of illegal drug manufacturers cutting their heroin product with synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.
These two substances are cheaper and easier to synthesize, lethal at shockingly incremental amounts, able to cause an overdose by being accidentally inhaled as a free-floating powder or absorbed through the skin and are rarely detected in standard toxicology screens. And while they are both significantly more potent than heroin could ever be, carfentanil is by far the more dangerous of the two.
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When fentanyl first appeared on the scene, being mixed with heroin and other drugs, it was followed by a wave of overdose deaths and countrywide panic, which is understandable, as fentanyl is more than 100 times stronger than morphine. Unfortunately, close behind the arrival of fentanyl was carfentanil, and fentanyl simply pales in comparison.
What Is Carfentanil?
Even with all the damage that is has caused, fentanyl does at least have a limited degree of medical usefulness in treating patients with who are unresponsive to other opioids or relieving pain associated with cancer treatment; carfentanil has no medical use for humans because it was never intended for human use at all.
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Synthesized in 1974, carfentanil is an opioid that, when sold under the brand name Wildnil, is used to sedate massive animals such as elephants, buffalo, and moose. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, making it a whopping 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.
It works in the same way that opioids do on humans, activating the neurotransmitters in the brain known as opioid receptors in order block pain signals from reaching the brain and increase dopamine levels for a sense of euphoria and relaxation.
Except that generally, it doesn’t get that far in humans before causing an—often lethal—overdose.
Carfentanil, when it is able to be detected in medical screenings and toxicology reports, has most commonly been found in heroin and cocaine, but can also be pressed into pills resembling prescription opioids.
While the idea behind adding in carfentanil is both to cut costs as well as boost potency for a longer-lasting high, because most users are unaware that what they are buying is partially carfentanil, they will take what they consider the normal dose of whatever substance they’ve bought and overdose, sometimes instantly.
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There is simply no overstating the risks of carfentanil use, let alone carfentanil abuse, so if you or someone you care about is currently struggling with a carfentanil addiction, seeking medical detox as soon as possible is absolutely critical to avoiding a potentially fatal overdose.
What Are the Effects of Carfentanil?
People who inadvertently take carfentanil while using heroin or another substance that has been mixed with carfentanil are far more likely to immediately overdose rather than feeling any kind of effects. If it is taken in a minute enough amount, there is still the unpredictability of knowing how the carfentanil will interact with whatever it has been mixed with. That said, the short-term effects of carfentanil will most likely include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Constricted pupils
- Impaired movement/immobility
- Clammy skin
- Weakened pulse
- Heart failure
To put it bluntly, the long-term effects of carfentanil abuse are not well-studied, due to the fact that most people who use it will overdose or die before enough time has passed to note the long-term effects on the body and brain.
What are the Signs of Carfentanil Addiction?
As just previously stated, due to its overwhelming potency and rapid effects, someone is more likely to see signs of a carfentanil overdose rather than a carfentanil addiction. But, as stated before, if an individual is lucky enough to have taken an extremely diluted or small enough amount of carfentanil, they will still become addicted almost immediately. The signs of a carfentanil addiction, as far as have been observed, include:
- Slurred speech
- Intense paranoia
- Compromised immune system
- Severe gastrointestinal issues
- Weight loss
- Uncontrollable itching/scratching
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
The symptoms are indicative of carfentanil addiction, and if you spot them in someone you know, then it is imperative that they get treatment immediately, not only to avoid permanent mental and physical damage but also to avoid the impending danger of both overdose and death.
What is Involved in Carfentanil Addiction Treatment?
If someone who has been abusing carfentanil is able to successfully make it to an addiction treatment center, the first step is immediate medical detoxification. Treating opioid addiction is a difficult process, especially the withdrawal phase.
While it is always recommended that someone undergoing opioid detox do so in the care of a professional medical detox center, it is especially important if they want to survive carfentanil withdrawal, since they will need a medical maintenance program to wean them off of it. The shock of attempting to stop using all at once can either kill someone or cause them to relapse, which typically leads to an overdose.
The substances used in medical maintenance therapy are meant to help decrease cravings throughout the tapering process. They provide similar effects to stronger opioids, but are significantly weaker and do not pose the same addictive risks.
The medications commonly used to treat people who have become addicted to carfentanil include:
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Perhaps the medication with the longest record of use in opioid addiction treatment as well as a long-term alternative to those with a history of relapse, methadone helps lessen cravings while still blocking the “high” associated with opioid use. Still, it is important to be aware of the fact that methadone carries a risk of addiction and its administration requires careful monitoring.
Another medication with a long-proven track record in the fight against opioid dependence, buprenorphine is what’s known as a “partial opioid,” meaning that it can decrease cravings by taking up space in the brain’s opioid receptors while also blocking the effects of opioids out of them. It has much less potential for addiction than methadone.
This is the brand name for the combination of buprenorphine and another drug called naloxone. On its own, naloxone is incredibly potent when it comes to blocking the effects of opioids, which makes it too strong to be used in maintenance therapy without cutting it with buprenorphine.
Like naloxone, naltrexone completely negates the effects of opioids and carries no risk of addiction. For long-term use, it is available as an extended-release injection called Vivitrol.
Detox can be a difficult and taxing process, but it’s still only the beginning of proper carfentanil addiction treatment. Recovery obviously cannot start without detoxing first, but it is vital that once the carfentanil has been flushed out from the body that the next step is checking into an addiction rehabilitation program.
Detoxing won’t help to address the ways that addiction rewires the brain, and so recovery treatment is crucial to learning how to manage addiction and maintain sobriety in the long-term.
There are many different kinds of recovery treatment programs available, including in-patient residential treatment, support groups, counseling, and even holistic therapy. Each patient will typically collaborate with their counselor or therapist in order to devise a treatment program that will be most effective for them.
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How Dangerous is Carfentanil?
If the dangers inherent in carfentanil use are still not readily apparent, here is another way of illustrating its mind-boggling potency: It takes as little as a 10-milligram dose of carfentanil to sedate and even kills a 15,000-pound African elephant, which is about 75 times the weight of a 200-pound man.
Just 10 milligrams! For comparison, the standard paper clip weighs in at roughly 140,000 milligrams. If diluted enough to be scattered in a crowded room, 10 milligrams would easily be enough to kill as many as 500 people. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that carfentanil’s toxicity has been compared to nerve gas.
In its powdered form, carfentanil is all-too-easily disguised as either heroin or cocaine, as all three substances are colorless and odorless, with similar appearance and texture as well. There is no way for someone to tell if the heroin or cocaine they are taking has been cut with carfentanil until it is too late.
And, if that were not enough, in the event of a carfentanil overdose, emergency overdose reversal medications such as Narcan may not be enough to save someone. Counteracting a heroin overdose typically required between one and three doses of Narcan, a fentanyl overdose may require three times that amount.
As for carfentanil, Narcan often does not work at all, even when administered immediately following an overdose. The true danger of carfentanil addiction isn’t what it can do to someone over long periods of abuse, but the immediate deadly impact of just one use.
Carfentanil Abuse Statistics
- An eyelash weighs roughly 60 micrograms; it only takes one single microgram of carfentanil for a human to feel its effects.
- The amount of carfentanil legally manufactured annually in the United States is about 19 grams, less than a single ounce, which supplies all of the zoos and large animal veterinarians across the country for the year.
- In 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio, health and law enforcement officials saw more than 170 cases of overdoses from heroin that had been cut with carfentanil in the span of six days.
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While there’s no such thing as “safe” substance abuse, carfentanil is one of the most dangerous drugs for someone to use, let alone abuse. Whether it’s you or a loved one that’s currently struggling with carfentanil addiction, the longer you wait to do something about it, the greater the chances of experiencing a fatal overdose.
It’s not too late to get help, call The Palm Beach Institute now at 1-855-960-5456 to speak to an addiction specialist to learn more about the expert, compassionate care we provide all the way through the recovery process and beyond. Call today or contact us online for more information.