Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid roughly 100 times more potent than fentanyl, that drug that infamously killed the artist Prince in April 2016. Then over the summer, Cincinnati, Ohio was hit with a rash of overdoses due to carfentanil being combined with or substituted for less potent drugs, such as heroin.
Both fentanyl and carfentanil have experienced growing popularity among drug dealers because they are inexpensive to make, and a little bit goes a long way. Indeed, sometimes way too far – at 10,000 the potency of morphine, it’s hard to believe that anyone could survive a carfentanil overdose at all.
And throughout 2017, carfentanil hasn’t gone away and appears to be holding steady, if not gaining traction. It still continues to pop up in tragic news – the drug that is only indicated for use as a sedative on large animals, such as elephants.
In fact, the drug is so powerful, veterinarians use protective covering on their hands and faces while handling it, lest they suffer a life-threatening overdose from mere skin contact.
Among the latest carfentanil tragedies are three cases in both Maryland and New Hampshire last month, which mark the very first known cases in these state by carfentanil poisoning.
And last week, a Virginia man plead guilty to selling $100 of carfentanil-laced heroin to a Kristina Lutz, a 21-year-old woman found by her mother, deceased on the bathroom floor in Fairfax after she had injected the drug.
Lutz said the following in a text to a drug dealer before her death:
“I’m desperate to get some stuff but I don’t know anyone that I could buy from. Any chance you’d be able to help me out haha.”
In the last few weeks and months, several police departments nationwide have announced deaths due to carfentanil, including Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Tom Synan, Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, Ohio:
“We have never seen death like we do now.”
“It shows how callous these drug dealers are. It has no human use whatsoever and they’re putting it out on the street and wreaking havoc.”
Carfentanil: History And Challenges
Hamilton County was ground zero for those among the first carfentanil victims. The county, which includes Cincinnati, witnessed an average of 50-70 overdoses per week in the summer of 2016 – including some who could not be revived. In one week in August, emergency responders experienced nearly 200 calls in a single week
Still, despite its horrific rise, carfentanil remains hard to detect and some medical examiners don’t have the means to do so. This fact also makes it harder for police to keep abreast of analogs and changing formulas, and alert the public to what’s going on in a timely fashion.
In some cases, it can take months to determine if carfentanil is indeed the culprit in an overdose death.
Cases of carfentanil fatalities first appeared in the early 2000s and reemerged in 2016. It is unknown the reasons the sudden reemergence, but the DEA believes it also comes down to money. Carfentanil can be laced into mass amounts of heroin, greatly increasing profits.
To give you an idea, just two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal, and carfentanil is 100 times stronger. Some seek these drugs out for a more intense high, but most often, the user doesn’t know what they are getting in their drugs.
Carfentanil and fentanyl are also creating additional challenges for law enforcement, emergency responders, and lab technicians who must take extreme care when handling the drugs.
Dogs can die from taking one whiff, and it may take several doses of the anti-overdose drug naloxone to save a life.
Carfentanil and Fentanyl in the UK
Law enforcement in the north of England now believes that a rash of deaths is related to heroin laced with fentanyl and carfentanil.
The UK’s National Crime Agency issued a public warning:
”Two deadly drugs behind an epidemic of fatalities in the US are now spreading onto British streets.”
After raiding a clandestine lab, the NCA fears that both drugs may be laced into other drugs around the entire country, and not just Cleveland, Humberside, and Yorkshire where the deaths occurred.
Tony Saggers, head of drugs threat and intelligence at the NCA:
“We have taken the unusual step of appealing to people to be vigilant.”
“First, because whilst initial toxicology revealed fentanyl analogs in a small number of these deaths, specific retesting has started to indicate that the influence of fentanyl is greater than first suspected.”
He also stated that the raided lab “may be a source for the production of fentanyl and other analogs. In particular, we now believe UK customers beyond the north-east region are likely to have received consignments of these drugs.”
He is worried that drug dealers may have already unwittingly purchased drugs from this lab:
“They may not know how dangerous it is, both to them when they handle it, and to their customers.”
Until the recent rash of deaths in the UK, there had been few fatalities related to fentanyl or carfentanil.