Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is estimated to be 10,000 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than fentanyl.
A lethal dose of fentanyl is a trace amount, about 2- 3 milligrams. This is roughly the size of 5-7 grains of salt. But for carfentanil, the lethal dose is .02 milligrams, which is more like 1-2 grains of salt.
Something as small as a grain of salt could kill you, and it’s out there on the streets now.
Carfentanil is actually used by animal trainers/specialists to tranquilize animals such as elephants in zoos. Most large animal veterinarians don’t even want to use carfentanil on horses because of its potency.
Now, because this drug is so potent, most drug users don’t purposefully abuse carfentanil on its own. No one wants to take carfentanil alone to get high, because you will most likely die. Instead, it is being cut into other drugs by dealers.
According to the DEA, this drug is being grossly misused on the streets. Carfentanil is being sold to look like Oxycontin or Xanax pills by dealers, or laced into heroin. The user doesn’t even know that they are taking it. Dealers do this because it is a cheap way to attain a huge high for people because it only takes a trace amount to be effective, which makes it cheaper for dealers to sell. But what you don’t know could kill you.
This drug is relatively new on the streets, and health care specialists are unsure if naloxone will even be able to reverse overdoses of carfentanil. Carfentanil poses a threat not just to drug users, but also to police officers and first responders who might simply touch the drug.
This white, powdery substance is a killer. We need to educate ourselves so we can stop this crisis before it begins.
Keep reading to find out:
Carfentanil is a new opioid that police force and first responders are just starting to see on the streets. In fact, one of the first seizures of carfentanil was recorded by police in the state of New York in 2018. Special Agent James J. Hunt stated:
“This investigation is about more than just arrests and seizures, it is a public health warning. Carfentanil is death, and drug dealers are packaging it for sale on the streets of New York City. Law enforcement is battling the opioid suppliers on the front lines and this drug has the potential to double or triple overdose rates if we don’t get it off the streets quickly and warn users of its extreme danger.”
The DEA and police force across the country are taking this very seriously because of the threat it poses to our society.
In January of 2019, the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab tested a syringe found at an overdose scene in northern Seattle, and found that it contained carfentanil along with heroin. This is the first and one of the only known cases involving carfentanil specifically in Washington State.
Luckily, there have been no fatal overdoses linked to carfentanil use in King County so far.
The DEA continues to stress the importance of taking preventative measures to fight this opioid that could kill so many. Since this drug is still very rare, it is extremely important to be aware of this threat and prevent it from creeping into the streets of your town in Washington.
So, what is carfentanil made of and what makes it so extremely strong and dangerous?
Carfentanil is usually laced into pills, but it can come in other forms as well. These include powder, blotter paper, tablets, and spray - they can be absorbed through the skin or accidental inhalation of airborne powder.
Molecular Formula: C24H30N2O3
Carfentanil is actually an analog of fentanyl, which means its chemical makeup is structurally similar to that of fentanyl, but it may just be an atom or so off in its chemical composition. Carfentanil is similar (but more potent) to the opioid analgesic fentanyl. It is used as a tranquilizer for large animals, and it is completely unintended for human use. It’s in the same drug class as other opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription drugs like Oxycodone.
As for the pharmacology of Carfentanil, DrugBank states that it acts primarily on the mu (some kappa and delta) opioid receptors as an agonist. It will induce similar effects of analgesia as other opioids, but because of its potency, it will also induce strong side effects such as sedation. This is why its only approved use is as a tranquilizer for large animals.
Carfentanil primarily affects the central nervous system. Its primary actions of therapeutic value are analgesia and sedation. Carfentanil also depresses the respiratory centers, depresses the cough reflex, and constricts the pupils.
Even though carfentanil is relatively new on the scene, it is already gaining popularity on the streets. Drug dealers refer to it as:
According to the World Health Organization, carfentanil is currently being used for its original purpose (a large animal tranquilizer) in 19 different countries: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Although it was created for this purpose, we now know that it is on the rise as another killer opioid street drug.
Carfentanil was first created by a team of chemists at Janssen Pharmaceutica, including Paul Janssen. It was created as a way to tranquilize large animals.
Carfentanil is first introduced to veterinary medicine.
Some of the first reports of carfentanil abuse and seizure appear in Europe. Then, in the following year, carfentanil was linked to a few drug-related deaths in Latvia.
Carfentanil abuse makes its way over to the United States. Kentucky State Police reported 9 overdose deaths. Time magazine does a report on carfentanil and reports at least 8 deaths in Cincinnati connected to the drug. DEA issues an official public warning against the drug.
The DEA Special Testing and Research Laboratory’s Emerging Trends Program reports that in 2017, there were 269 identifications of “fentanyl, fentanyl-related substances, and other synthetic opioids.” Fentanyl accounted for 69% of the identifications (187 out of 269) and carfentanil accounted for 3.3% of the identifications (9 out of 269).
Carfentanil is reported in Kings County Washington
While carfentanil was first created about 50 years ago, the rate in which we have seen it spread on the streets is rapid and alarming. It took only 7 years from the first reports of illegal carfentanil use in a different country for it to reach the doorsteps of our home in Washington State.
According to the Associated Press, carfentanil is mostly being produced and exported from China, just like fentanyl. After investigating, they reported that in 2016 they found:
“12 Chinese businesses that said they would export the chemical — a synthetic opioid known as carfentanil — to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and Australia for as little as $2,750 a kilogram (2.2 pounds), no questions asked.
This was a chilling and dangerous discovery.
The reason why it is mostly produced in China is because it was not a controlled substance there until 2017. So for years before that, it was being manufactured and sold legally online. And a lot of it ended up right here in the United States.
In 2016, police force in the US and Canada reported finding carfentanil in boxes shipped from China that were labeled as “printer accessories.”
According to the DEA, most carfentanil makes its way to the United States either directly from China or by way of Mexico.
Carfentanil is usually mixed with other substances because it is cheap, has no smell, has no color and it dissolves in water. Dealers usually mix it into heroin, Oxycontin, or Xanax. Since carfentanil is so potent, the user will experience a high that is stronger than those substances that don’t contain carfentanil. And if the user likes the high, they will keep coming back to that dealer.
Carfentanil is extremely hard to detect, so it is almost impossible to know you are taking it. Even medical examiners have a hard time identifying carfentanil’s presence in other substances.
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As with fentanyl, carfentanil is also a depressant. That is how it can tranquilize large animals. So, when you mix two powerful depressants together, it can cause drowsiness, extreme sedation, and respiratory depression. This can cause you to fall into a coma or die suddenly.
For a normal heroin overdose, two shots of naloxone are recommended to help reverse the overdose effects. But for heroin laced with carfentanil, it will take at least six shots of naloxone to reverse the effects. Even then, it is not guaranteed to work. In certain cases, people who overdosed on heroin mixed with carfentanil have needed IV bags of naloxone to remain stable. This drug is simply too powerful for any current methods of treating overdoses, and the death rate from overdose is highly likely.
Carfentanil has also been found in OxyContin pills along with heroin. In 2018, a town in Northeast Ohio found what looked like OxyContin pills, but actually contained carfentanil instead of oxycodone. Unsuspecting users think they are taking OxyContin, but they are actually ingesting something much stronger.
Again, like with fentanyl, even the smallest amount of carfentanil mixed with oxycodone could result in overdose and potentially death. Buying pills on the streets is not safe, especially when these deadly drugs are out at large.
Since Carfentanil is used as a tranquilizer for large animals, you could imagine the effects it would have on a human body. A carfentanil high is reported to feel extremely tranquil, usually to the point of drowsiness and nausea.
The high of carfentanil is similar to that of heroin in the short-term, but because it is so potent, it acts quickly and wears off quickly.
The probability of getting high on carfentanil without overdosing is also very low, again because it is such a potent drug. It takes such a trace amount of carfentanil to be lethal that is very likely users will be unable to experience a high without also overdosing.
The most common side effect of carfentanil is death, but if the user does survive, the side effects will be similar to that of other synthetic opioids. Some of those side effects include:
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a carfentanil overdose so that the drug user can receive the proper medical attention, and so the medical team can make sure that the substance doesn’t contaminate anyone else.
Although scientists and health care experts are still researching and gathering data on carfentanil overdose symptoms because it is such a new street drug, it is believed to have similar overdose effects as fentanyl.
The EMCDDA-Europol Joint report in 2017 reported on the overdose symptoms of carfentanil:
“Similar to other fentanils, the most serious acute health risk from using carfentanil is likely to be rapid and severe respiratory depression, which in overdose could lead to apnoea, respiratory arrest, and death.”
The carfentanil user will most likely die from their respiratory system shutting down, meaning they will stop breathing, their heart will stop, and they will die unless they can be saved by naloxone or a medical professional.
Carfentanil is a rapid-acting drug, which means that this could all happen within seconds to minutes.
After conducting a survey, the World Health Organization reported that trained respondents on fentanyl overdose saw within seconds to minutes:
Although this study was not done on carfentanil specifically, health specialists agree that since fentanyl and carfentanil are so closely related, the overdoses would look similar. The only difference is that carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, so these symptoms would be more severe and happen faster.
If you are with someone who you believe may have overdosed and you see these symptoms, the user may have ingested carfentanil. It is very important that you act quickly in order to save their life.
Provide Fresh Air and Clear Possible Contamination
Carfentanil causes difficulty in breathing, so if you believe someone has overdosed on carfentanil it is recommended to make sure that the person gets fresh air to breathe. The DEA also suggests that if the person who overdosed is conscious, their eyes and mouth should be washed out with cool water to make sure the substance is no where on the person’s body.
Call Emergency Services
The next step, and probably the most important step, is to call emergency medical care or 9-1-1 as soon as possible. Medical professionals will have the life-saving resources and training that the victim needs. They are also trained on how to protect themselves and other from being exposed to carfentanil, so it is best to leave all recovery attempts to the professionals.
Administer Naloxone if Available
If the victim is not breathing, and you do have access to naloxone, it is recommended that you administer it. The DEA recommends giving a dose of naloxone every 2-3 minutes until the person is able to breathe on their own while you are waiting for EMS to arrive.
Carfentanil is not meant for human use whatsoever, and it has only recently turned up on the streets in other drugs, so health care experts have not studied the specific withdrawal symptoms or detox experience for this drug.
But because carfentanil is a synthetic opioid and it is closely related to fentanyl, its withdrawal symptoms and detox are probably similar to that of fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.
If a person survives carfentanil use, their body will be addicted to the substance. It is so strong that even one use will do permanent damage to the body.
Withdrawal symptoms could include:
Again, due to the lack of knowledge or research on carfentanil effects in humans, we are basing the detox timeline on other synthetic opioids.
With fentanyl, the detox process is estimated to take about 10 days. For carfentanil, the detox time estimate is still unknown, but it could be even longer due to the fact that it is so much stronger than fentanyl.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to seek medical attention and go through a medically supervised detox treatment if you have ingested carfentanil. Due to the lack of knowledge on the drug and its extremely high potency, it is extremely important that you have access to 24/7 medical attention throughout the detox process.
Here is a general detox timeline for fentanyl. Remember, since carfentanil is 100 times stronger, and because it is a rapid-acting drug, this timeline may be sped up for carfentanil. And this timeline will only be true for people who take a non-lethal dose, which is extremely hard to do with carfentanil.
8 - 30 hours after use: Mild symptoms typically begin
36 - 70 hours after use: The worst symptoms set in. After this peak, symptoms begin to decrease.
5- 7 days after use: Most withdrawal symptoms will have worn off (could be longer with carfentanil).
Weeks to Months after use: Due to the extreme potency of this drug, some symptoms may be permanent. Some physical symptoms (like sensitivity to pain) and psychological symptoms (like cravings, depression, insomnia, and anxiety) might be with you for life.
Because there are some symptoms that will remain after detox, it is important to continue on the road to recovery by enrolling in a rehab treatment program.
If you accidently take carfentanil and survive, you are one of the lucky few. You will have a hard recovery road ahead of you, but if you take the right steps, you can come out on top.
After completing a medically supervised detox, your body will be rid of the invasive substance. But your mind will not be.
This is why following up with drug rehab treatment after detox is so important. A rehab facility will provide you with the tools you need to mentally beat your cravings and addiction. You will be provided with care from medical professionals to help maintain your physical health, as well as care from therapists who will help you maintain your mental health. You will learn how to live a sober life, and you will be surrounded by a community of people on the same journey as you.
Here at Northpoint the Evergreen, we pride ourselves in offering the highest quality drug rehab and detox care available in Washington State. Our number one goal is to help people get their lives back, and we do that by treating every patient with individual care. We build and develop custom treatment plans for every individual based on their needs.
Since we recognize the needs of each individual, we also understand that Northpoint the Evergreen may not be the right treatment facility for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits all alcohol or drug rehab solution; regardless, we can help point you in the right direction.
The bottom line is that there is hope to recover from drug addiction, even from a drug such as carfentanil, and there is help available. All you need to do is take the first step towards recovery.