Detoxes Blog

carfentanil overdoses

What Is Carfentanil? – The Street Drug Causing Mass Overdoses

Written By Detoxes - May 3rd, 2017

A new street drug that many have never even heard of is causing an outbreak of mass overdoses throughout the United States. So what, exactly, is in this deadly new drug?

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that consists of heroin, laced with elephant tranquilizers. It was never created or intended for human use. It’s considered to be roughly 100 times more potent than fentanyl, 400 times more potent than heroin, and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.  In short, it is staggeringly potent and extremely dangerous.

Deadly, even in Small Amounts

Because this drug was not designed for human use, there is very little research on how it affects the human body. However, from what scientists can determine simply based off the drug’s chemical make-up, its deadliness is crystal clear.  With such a high level of potency, just a few granules of this dangerous drug are enough to be lethal.

First emergency responders, police and lab workers are being advised to take strict precautions, wearing gloves and masks when responding to overdoses of carfentanil or dealing with the substance, in order to protect themselves from accidentally ingesting or absorbing even the smallest amounts.  Even a whiff of it coming from a bag that is being resealed can be deadly.  Its original intended use is to immobilize large animals, and its extreme potency makes it incredibly dangerous for human consumption. Absorbing a small amount through the skin can be fatal.

Unlike other opiates, carfentanil is actually too powerful to lead to addiction. Even for those with a tolerance to strong narcotics like heroin or fentanyl, a dose of carfentanil the size of a grain of salt can rapidly trigger overdose and death.  The danger of this drug, even in small amounts, cannot be over-stated.  

Quantifying Carfentanil’s Deadly Potency:

According to a recent article in the Washington Post,

  • All of the vets and zookeepers in the entire country combined only need about 18 grams of carfentanil a year, equivalent to the weight of approximately 18 artificial sweetener packets. This drug is used on large animals such as the African elephant – an animal that weighs between 5,000 to 14,000 pounds. This is roughly 26 to 72 times the weight of an average adult male.
  • In 2002, Russian authorities used a weaponized chemical gas based on carfentanil to end a hostage crisis. One does killed 170 people.
  • In Yellowstone, people are warned not to eat the meat of bison who have been sedated with carfentanil, because it can enter the body that way and still cause a deadly overdose.

Carfentanil Street Presence – Russian Roulette

The most frightening aspect of carfentanil is the fact that dealers are mixing it with heroin and selling it on the streets, unbeknownst to their customers.  People may think they are only using heroin – a drug dangerous enough in and of itself – when in fact they are unknowingly injecting or snorting a lethal combination of heroin laced with carfentanil, increasing their chances of experiencing a fatal overdose exponentially.  With carfentanil now on the streets, heroin users are unable to be sure of what substance they are actually taking, or if it contains this drug that can more easily increase their chances of death – essentially playing Russian roulette with a needle.

Law enforcement personnel are issuing public health alerts that dealers have been found cutting heroin with carfentanil, in order to increase their potency and supply. Just a small amount can infuse large amounts of heroin, increasing profits, while sadly risking lives. It comes in an odorless white powder or clear liquid form, and therefore looks just like other drugs found on the street, making it impossible to detect. While the dosage used to cut heroin can be so small it’s undetectable, even to forensic chemists, carfentanil ingested in these untraceably small amounts can still be enough to trigger a fatal overdose. This emergence of carfentanil in the heroin supply has drastically increased the number of deadly overdoses, rapidly adding to the body count of the already tragic ongoing heroin epidemic. If you’re looking for help visit a treatment center that can help, Essential Recovery.