What is Carfentanil?
If Carfentanil can do this to an elephant, imagine what it does to a human being. Invented to be a large animal sedative, Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. It is sometimes added to heroin or used as a substitute for it. It has already killed scores of people. The deaths seem to come in “clusters”. For example, 5 people were reportedly killed in Minnesota not to long ago. These five overdoses happened between Jan. 30 to Feb. 17, in the Minneapolis area.
Ken Solek, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in Minnesota, said “the drug is so strong that it can’t be diluted enough for safe human consumption, and many people don’t realize they are taking it.”
Carfentanil is an analogue of the synthetic analgesic opioid fentanyl, carfentanil (sometimes spelled carfentanyl) is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl. In fact, carfentil and may be the most powerful opioid known to exist. Developed over 40 years ago by chemists working for Janssen Pharmaceutica, carfentanil was originally meant for use as an anesthetic/ sedative for large animals only, like elephants, giraffes and moose.
Pharmacology of Carfentanil
Similar to fentanyl, heroin and other opioids, carfentanil acts on certain opioid receptors in the brain to induce potent sedative and analgesic effects. These opioid mu receptors are spread throughout the spinal cord and central nervous system tissues. Abusing carfentanil inhibits release of stimulatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, GABA, noradrenaline and acetylcholine. It also decreases neuronal excitability by closing chemical channels between neurons and inducing hyperpolarization, a condition in which neurons cannot receive external or internal stimuli.
How is Carfentanil Abused?
After being crushed into a powdery substance, carfentanil is added to heroin to enhance a heroin “high” by drug dealers. Lacing heroin with carfentanil also increases the amount of heroin dealers can sell to unsuspecting addicts. Most people purchasing heroin on the street do not know if the heroin they inject themselves with contain carfentanil.
If an addict were to inject carfentanil alone, they would probably die with minutes from heart failure and respiratory distress. Even inhaling or absorbing a tiny amount of carfentanil (the size of a grain of salt) through your skin would demand immediate medical attention to avoid severe shock and possibly death.
The Chinese Connection
Carfentanil overdoses and deaths surfaced for the first time in the U.S. during July of 2016. Drug agents traced the drug back to 12 Chinese vendors who were selling carfentanil online for $3000 per kilogram (roughly two and a half pounds). These Chinese companies were also offering carfentanil online in Canada, France, the U.K and Australia. Although China has since banned the export of carfentanil to the U.S. and other countries, Mexican drug cartels still provide gangs and drug dealers with carfentanil via boat, airplane and illegal postal shipments.
Effects of Carfentanil
Similar to the physical and cognitive effects of fentanyl, carfentanil causes;
- extreme itching
- life-threatening respiratory depression
- decreased heart rate
Police Carrying Extra Narcan
Naloxone (Narcan) can help reverse the effects of carfentanil but not as well as it works for people overdosing on heroin. Carfentanil is so dangerous that law enforcement in Canada and the U.S. are carrying extra vials of Narcon in case they come in contact with the drug.
Carfentanil as a Weapon of Mass Destruction
The lethalness of carfentanil is comparable to nerve gases used as chemical weapons. In fact, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs Andrew Weber (2009-2014) asserted carfentanil was a “weapon” and reiterated the threat of terrorist groups like ISIL or al-Qaeda ordering carfentanil online to be used to kill civilians and knock out troops in enclosed areas.