Carfentanil is one of the newest drugs to take hold on the United States. In recent years, the sedative and tranquilizing drug — similar to fentanyl — accounted for numerous overdose-related deaths in the country because of its high potency both in power and severe effects.
Carfentanil was first synthesized in 1974 by a team of chemists. It has since been classified as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. One of the major risks associated with the drug is that it can come in many forms, including as an ingredient paired with another drug. Carfentanil and fentanyl have been found mixed with heroin. This mixture increases the potency of each dosage and makes heroin misuse much more deadly.
In Alberta, Canada, the number of deaths related to carfentanil use rose from 29 to 125 between 2016 and 2017. Arizona saw its first carfentanil overdose case in August of 2017. According to a report by TIME magazine between August and September, of 2016, there were 300 deaths related to carfentanil or fentanyl. However, the number of deaths are difficult to track because medical examiners, doctors and nurses are not familiar with the drug and have difficulty identifying it when mixed in with heroin and cocaine. To understand the potency, 2 milligrams of carfentanil — equal in weight to around 35 grains of salt — is potent enough to sedate an elephant. A Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) spokesperson said in 2016 that just a few granules of carfentanil is enough to kill someone.
Carfentanil is not going away, either. Drug dealers have learned that it is more profitable to mix the drug and fentanyl in with heroin and cocaine because of the combined power and ability to spread out the substance beyond the original mount by blending in other drugs. Since the people who intend to misuse heroin and cocaine are often not aware of carfentanil’s presence, their lack of awareness can cause an overdose or lead to severe addiction.
On its own, carfentanil can cause side effects even by touch or smell. The Washington Post reported that law enforcement officials have been warned against touching carfentanil powder with their bare skin. Some of the more severe carfentanil side effects include:
- Low blood pressure
- Constricted pupils
- Trouble breathing
- Heart failure
Knowing how lethal carfentanil is can help deter people from misusing the drug, but the drug’s ability to mix in with others makes it difficult to detect without knowing what it looks like.