Carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, the drug that killed Prince in April.
The synthetic opioid was developed to sedate elephants but as I reported in August on this blog, carfentanil has been implicated in a growing number of overdose fatalities. This latest threat in America’s opioid epidemic is now so acute that the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a severe warning in September.
“Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities.” said 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.”
The drug is so strong that just a few granules the size of grains of table salt can be lethal—it even poses a threat to bystanders and first responders if they come in contact with it. Inhaling carfentanil or absorbing it through the skin can be fatal.
Carfentanil is so toxic, first responders often have to administer multiple doses of naloxone, the medication used to reverse opioid overdoses.
The Scientific American reported that currently the DEA lacks “national or state tallies on carfentanil use and deaths. So far, however, limited data from medical examiner's and coroner’s offices indicate that Ohio is the hardest-hit state.”
Carfentanil is believed to have driven part of a staggering cluster of 175 opioid overdoses in Hamilton County, Ohio, over only six days in late August, according to officials quoted in the Boston Globe.
TIME Magazine reported that the DEA recorded 208 overdoses between August 15 and September 4, with local officials saying at least eight deaths in the Cincinnati area have been linked to Carfentanil.
According to the TIME article, Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, saw 52 overdose deaths in August with at least two from Carfentanil, the most fatalities related to heroin and fentanyl the county has ever seen. It has also made its way across the Ohio River into Kentucky where it has been has found in Madison County, according to local law enforcement.
Other states are preparing for carfentanil overdoses as well: According to the Scientific American, “several states—West Virginia, Georgia, Rhode Island, Florida and Michigan among them—have recently asked the DEA for carfentanil samples for comparison testing.”
The carfentanil supply appears to originate in China where it is not a controlled substance and can be acquired online. In August, Canadian border agents seized a huge carfentanil shipment from China. It is also coming in across the southern border. According to the DEA, some of the illicit carfentanil is brought in by Mexican drug traffickers.