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Deadly Heroin Laced with Elephant Tranquilizer (Carfentanil)

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heroin-carfentanilWhile jurisdictions around the country are still grappling with the devastation of heroin’s reemergence, a new drug has hit the streets along with it, this one reportedly 100 times the potency of fentanyl – a synthetic opioid drug that has itself seen a new, deadly popularity. Since late August, some 300 heroin overdoses have been blamed on carfentanil and fentanyl, and officials are sounding warnings nationwide.

Related: Ohio prosecutors are fighting back against heroin (CNN Video)

What is Carfentanil?

Like fentanyl, carfentanil is a synthetic opioid. It’s so powerful that it’s typically used to sedate elephants. Both drugs are extremely dangerous and highly fatal in overdose incidents. Carfentanil is dangerous to even touch without sterile gloves.

While Narcan is a typically successful antidote for opioid overdoses, officials say they need more of it to revive users after an overdose involving carfentanil, and even then, it doesn’t always work.

As a recent NPR article reports, carfentanil may be a sign of a dangerous forthcoming shift in drug use: Desperate to get the high their bodies crave, addicts are resorting to synthetic drugs and it’s killing them. Last year in Hamilton County, Ohio, for example, fentanyl killed more people than heroin. It’s a small sample size, but it’s a particularly troubling trend.

Where is it coming from?

The midwest is one of the hardest hit regions by the opioid epidemic in general, and has seen a spike in carfentanil related overdoses as of late. Officials in Hamilton County’s heroin task force say there are 20 to 25 overdoses a day. Though they’re not all related to carfentanil, police are calling the rates “the new normal.”

In a recent report, the Cincinnati Enquirer spoke with a representative at the Drug Enforcement Agency, who suggested carfentanil is coming from China, through Mexico, then Canada, before getting smuggled into the United States.

DEA Spokesman Melvin Patterson told the paper, “It’s such a restricted drug, there’s only a handful of places in the United States that can have it.”

How does the drug work?

Part of the reason for the stoked fear is that health officials do not understand exactly how the drug interacts with the human body, explained Hamilton County coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco in an interview with NPR. “It’s what we don’t know about this drug that scares us,” she said. “We don’t have any human testing data. We don’t know what the lethal level really is. There is no therapeutic level — it’s not meant for human use.”

Officials are trying to obtain as much information as they can, and in the meantime are warning the public of this extremely dangerous new drug.

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