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Carfentanil: What You Should Know

By Stephanie Villanova

Less known than many other dangerous drugs, Carfentanil is a growing part of our nation’s opioid crisis. Many deaths have been reported from overdoses in New Hampshire, Maryland and numerous other states. Here are some facts that you and your family should know about the drug:

  • Carfentanil is a structural analog of the synthetic opioid analgesic fentanyl. This synthetic opioid is a white powdery substance that looks like it could be cocaine or heroin. It is mixed with heroin by drug dealers in an attempt to make the heroin stronger.
  • It is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
  • Carfentanil and other fentanyl analogues can come in many forms, including powder, blotter paper, tablets, patch and spray.
  • Carfentanil has been used to tranquilize elephants and other very large animals. It is so dangerous that when handling it, veterinarians wear masks and gloves.
  • Just touching the drug can be extremely dangerous. Law enforcement personnel and first respondents who touch the drug by accident, and, of course, drug users who handle the drug, are all at risk. Carfentanil causes overdoses very quickly.
  • Exposure to carfentanil can cause clammy skin, dizziness, shallow breathing, heart failure and more. Other symptoms include respiratory depression or arrest, drowsiness, disorientation, sedation, and pinpoint pupils.
  • In cases of expected exposure, you should call EMS immediately. If the drug has been inhaled, you should move the victim to fresh air. If ingested and the victim is conscious, wash out the victim’s eyes and mouth with cool water.
  • Unfortunately, even multiple doses of the anti-opiod overdose drug Narcan may not be effective. Also known as naloxene, narcan should be administered immediately; again, multiple doses may be required. Law enforcement officers should continue to admister a dose of Narcan every two to three minutes until the overdose victim is breathing on his/her own for at least 15 minutes or until EMS arrives.
  • As little as 0.02 milligram of carfentanil—a little more than a speck of dust or grain of sand—could be enough to kill a person

Carfentanil Appears To Becoming More Popular

“Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities,” says DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin. It is crazy dangerous. Synthetics such as fentanyl and carfentanil can kill you I hope our first responders—and the public—will read and heed our health and safety warning. These men and women have remarkably difficult jobs and we need them to be well and healthy.”


How Carfentanil Was First Made

It was first synthesized by a team of chemists at Janssen Pharmaceutical. Production of the product ceased in 2003. Structurally, it is one substituted drug away from identical composition to fentanyl and like fentanyl it is a Schedule 2 drug.  Schedule 2 drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. It is marketed under the trade name “Wildnil” as an extremely potent general anesthetic agent for large animals such as elephants, as previously noted, administered via dart.


Carfentanil Lethal Dose

The DEA says the precise lethal dose of carfentanil for a human “is unknown” — perhaps because, as the National Library of Medicine states, the drug “is intended for large-animal use only as its extreme potency makes it inappropriate for use in humans.” Illustrating that point, the DEA displayed an image of a tiny 2-milligram pile of powder next to a penny. In that image, the powder was a little bigger than Abraham Lincoln’s ear.


New York Is Being Aggressive In The Fight Against Carfentanil

New York’s police force has taken a particularly vigorous campaign to fight carfentanil NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said: “Anyone who continues to peddle this poison on the streets of New York City should be prepared for the full weight of our nation’s best investigators to bear down on them. I commend everyone involved in this case, particularly the members of the New York Drug Enforcement Strike Force, as they have proven again just how effective our law enforcement partnerships really are.”

State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said: “The work of the New York Strike Force stopped these dangerous and potentially deadly drugs before they could reach the streets of New York. We have no tolerance for those who allegedly continue to traffic narcotics with no regard to the damage they inflict in our communities, and anyone who does, can expect to end up in prison. We will continue to work with our federal and local partners to prevent the flow of these illegal drugs from reaching our neighborhoods.”


Where Does Carfentanil Come From

Much of the carfentanil that is on the streets of U.S. cities comes from China, via the U.S. postal service. Now that the drug has become a controlled substance in China it is hoped that we will be seeing fewer cases of carfentanil overdoses in the U.S. NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports:

“Zoos keep carfentanil as an elephant tranquilizer, but drug dealers cut it up and add it to heroin and other drugs to boost profit margins. For years, Chinese companies offered to export carfentanil around the world for less than $2,000 a pound. Drug dealers in the United States were eager customers.

“The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says China’s regulation of the substance is a potential game changer that is likely to curb a surge of overdoses and deaths among users in the US. China will also regulate two other opioids that are related to carfentanil.”








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