September is National Recovery Month in the U.S. and with the opioid epidemic happening across the country the timing of an elephant sedative called Carfentanil comes at the worst possible moment. In Canada, a shipment of the tranquilizer was seized at a port in Vancouver bound for Calgary. The drug, an opioid that is stronger than heroin, is being blamed for many deadly overdoses in Ohio.
Opioids are a class of painkillers which includes OxyContin and Vicodin that work to block a person’s pain receptors and can cause a sense of euphoria. Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid used for veterinary purposes for larger animals such as elephants or moose, according to CBC.
The drug, which is cheaper and easier to obtain than heroin or cocaine, is being added to other street drugs and sometimes without telling their buyers. According to Hamilton County Health Commissioner, Tim Ingram, carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, another opioid; 4,000 times stronger than heroin; and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Just twenty micrograms of Carfentanil is fatal to humans. In comparison, one microgram is less than a grain of salt.
Not all veterinarians can handle the drug. Those with special licenses must wear protective clothing including face shields and gloves because absorption can happen through the skin and can be breathed in. Law enforcement officers are highly advised not to touch the substance. In Ohio, nearly 300 overdoses were reported since August 19 with carfentanil present in eight deaths. Naloxone, the medication used to block or reverse the effects of an overdose, was used in multiple doses in cases in the state. Because of this, first responders continually run out of naloxone.
According to CNN, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not track carfentanil cases and few labs across the U.S. are equipped for the drug. The University of Florida Forensic Toxicology Lab is developing a new test to “identify the drug.” In the meantime, buyers are acquiring the drug online and some officials speculate that they are being smuggled in from China or Mexico.
Officials in Hamilton County, Ohio urged the public in July about the synthetic opioid. Speaking to FOX 19, Hamilton County coroner, Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said, “No one knows what other drugs may be mixed in or substituted, and you may be literally gambling with your life.” According to Business Insider, since 1999 overdose opioid deaths have “quadrupled.” In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from opioid overdoses. Carfentanil has also shown up in Kentucky and Florida.
In Ohio, the number of overdoses in a day have intensified. Instead of four or five overdoses, first responders are facing upwards of 50 overdoses a day, said Tom Synan, director of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task Force. The number has overwhelmed first responders and emergency rooms. Carfentanil metabolizes longer than other opioids, which means a longer high but a more difficult time reviving people leading to fatal overdoses. For more CDA News, follow our tweets on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office