Carfentanil: Everything You Should Know About the Deadly Synthetic Heroin
Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have been making a huge splash in the United States and are causing an unprecedented number of overdoses and deaths throughout suburban America. Recently, a significantly more potent opioid analog has appeared. Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and has proved deadly for many unsuspecting users.
Unless you work with large mammals, are involved in law enforcement, or consider yourself a narcotics expert, you’ve probably never heard of carfentanil. Consider yourself lucky.
Carfentanil is an unbelievably powerful synthetic opiate, manufactured for use as a tranquilizer for large mammals, like elephants. Basically, it’s man-made heroin on steroids. 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, a few grains of the substance are considered a lethal dose for humans. Unlike other commonly abused opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl, and hydromorphone, there is no practical human use for this pharmaceutical. The United States classified carfentanil as a Schedule II Controlled Substance, and it is highly regulated. So how is it responsible for deaths across our country?
Our nation is in the midst of an opiate crisis. The abuse of narcotics including heroin and prescription painkillers is surging among middle-class, young adults. Just like it cousin fentanyl, carfentanil is being mixed with heroin to increase its strength, thus increasing the profit margin for dealers. Fentanyl made an appearance on the opiate scene in the past few years as another dangerous heroin substitute, but the potency of carfentanil is unprecedented. Dealers love it because it makes sense from a business perspective to mix stronger synthetics into heroin, driving up its potency and increasing sales. But typical drug dealers are far from chemists, so mixing lethal chemicals with drugs is far from an exact science. As pushers experiment to find the right potency, users can never be sure of which substance they are using or in what amounts. Even without the danger of synthetics, opiate addicts are always at risk for overdose. This new danger adds a whole new element of uncertainty to the growing epidemic.
Like fentanyl, carfentanil is a colorless and odorless granule or powder that is undetectable by the daily user. Since dealers often mixed into heroin along with other ingredients, buyers have no way of knowing how much is in their dose. For example, if a gram of heroin is 10% carfentanil, someone could theoretically consume 1/10th of that gram and only ingest carfentanil. Since a lethal amount can be the size of a poppy seed, the danger here is obvious.
The epidemic’s ravaging the Midwest especially. In Ohio, public health and advocacy groups have issued warnings in several counties following a string of several overdoses last summer. Confiscated heroin has tested positive for carfentanil in at least six other states, reinforcing fears that the dangerous substance will continue to spread.
But how could a highly regulated veterinary medicine even make it into a street-level heroin dealer’s hands in the first place? Chinese vendors are largely responsible for the influx of spiked heroin in the United States and Canada. Law enforcement believes it is being manufactured in China and imported into Mexico or South American countries, mixed in with Mexican heroin, and then trafficked into the United States.
Another frightening aspect is the fact that Naloxone, the only approved medicine to reverse opioid overdose, is often not powerful enough in regular doses to be effective. Individuals frequently require multiple doses to be revived because of the sheer potency of their narcotics. Naloxone, also known by its trade name Narcan, was developed for a typical heroin or opiate overdose. Unfortunately, the medicine sometimes isn’t enough for this deadly new chemical. Even those who keep Narcan on hand can’t always revive a loved one because the newer synthetic opioids are just too powerful.