Deadly new opioid: Carfentanil

By Christiaan Tarbox
[email protected]

Heroin and syringes
Photo illustration

Authorities are warning residents about a deadly new drug in Minnesota’s opioid epidemic.

A new substance known as carfentanil has already caused at least five overdose-related fatalities in the state so far in 2017, according to the county in a statement released on March 30. The synthetic drug is normally used as a large animal tranquilizer, and is reportedly 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.
Carfentanil currently cannot be detected via conventional drug and alcohol testing.

The lethal dose range for carfentanil in humans is unknown.

“Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities.” said U.S. Drug Enforcement Adminstration’s 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.”

The drug was confirmed to have caused three deaths in Minneapolis, and one death each in Dakota and Rice counties, according to officials. Eleven cases involving the opioid have been investigated by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in the last six months.

“A 900-kilogram elephant can be immobilized by just two milligrams of carfentanil. This drug is ultra-potent,” said Hennepin County Medical Center and the Minnesota Poison Control System representative Jon Cole.

According to officials, carfentanil can come in the form of tablets, patches, sprays, powders and blotter paper, and can also be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says that symptoms of carfentanil exposure include respiratory arrest, drowsiness, clammy skin and sedation, and that immediate medical attention is crucial for those suspected to be overdosing.

Like other cases of opioid overdose, the administration of the antidote Naloxone is required to reverse the overdose.

“The Medical Examiner’s Office felt it important not just to inform the public of this new hazard, but to ensure that our colleagues on the front lines of saving lives were aware that carfentanil has now been confirmed to be in Minnesota,” said Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker.

“Fentanyl can kill you,” acting deputy DEA administrator Jack Riley said. “Fentanyl is being sold as heroin in virtually every corner of our country. It’s produced clandestinely in Mexico, and (also) comes directly from China. It is 40 to 50 times stronger than street-level heroin. A very small amount ingested, or absorbed through your skin, can kill you.”

Those seeking more information on carfentanil can call the Minnesota Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.