Carfentanil is one of the latest drugs spreading despair and destruction across the country. The drug’s growing impact and devastating effects have a growing number of people asking, “What is carfentanil, and what does it do?” The concern is that this drug is even more dangerous than many of those already contributing to the opioid crisis.
What are Opioids
The name ‘opioids’ is used to describe both natural and synthetic drugs. Although both natural and synthetic opioids have similar properties, they aren’t the same. The class of drugs known as opiates are made from the poppy plant. Codeine and morphine are examples of opiate drugs. They are effective painkillers that work by binding to opioid receptors in brain cells. The medication triggers cells to release signals that decrease your sense of pain while boosting feelings of pleasure. The same feeling of euphoria that makes them effective at treating pain also makes them addictive.
Opioids are synthetic drugs made in a lab and formulated to have similar effects as opiates. Heroin, fentanyl, and methadone are examples of opioids. These drugs produce the same euphoric feeling and are just as addictive as opiates.
Both opiates and opioids are used as prescription painkillers. When used as prescribed, they are effective at treating moderate to severe pain. When misused, these drugs are very dangerous. They are not only highly addictive; they also come with a high risk of overdose.
When sold on the street, drug cartels sometimes cut opiates with opioids like fentanyl to make them cheaper to produce. This makes buying and using illegally produced drugs even more dangerous. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is also as much as 50 times more potent than heroin.
What is Carfentanil and Where Does it Fit into the Picture?
Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that has already led to many overdoses and deaths. Like fentanyl, drug dealers are using carfentanil to cut heroin and selling it as pure heroin. It has a white, powder-like appearance that is similar to that of cocaine and heroin. The drug was previously known as “Wildnil.” Its only use was as an animal tranquilizer because of its ability to immobilize the largest animals almost instantly. Carfentanil is a clone of fentanyl but it is 100 times stronger.
It only takes a tiny bit of the drug to cause an overdose in humans. The practice of cutting heroin with the carfentanil puts users at risk without their ever knowing it. Once a person uses it, even by mistake, they may never have the chance to use it again.
Even in large animals, misusing the drug can lead to severe respiratory and cardiovascular problems. It’s not difficult to see how a drug that is potent enough to drop an elephant can have a devastating impact on a human being! That’s why veterinarians who administer the drug wear rubber gloves and face masks to avoid exposure.
Fentanyl has already led to many overdoses and deaths from being mixed into heroin without the user’s knowledge. Now, a drug that is many times more potent is finding its way into the market.
Carfentanil as a Recreational Drug
Getting carfentanil without knowing it is only one way that the synthetic opioid is causing problems. Some recreational drug users are seeking out the ‘intense heroin’ to intensify their experience. Some people who have developed a tolerance to heroin like the idea of boosting the drug’s effect. When dealers promise a more potent form of heroin, they go for it without realizing the potential danger.
Heroin is normally cut with sugars, powdered milk, starch, or quinine. Users can snort, smoke, or inject the drug. It is also offered in tablet, powder, spray, and blotter paper. Another reason carfentanil is even scarier is that inhaling it or absorbing it through your skin is just as deadly. Law enforcement officers and bystanders should think twice before helping a heroin overdose victim. While first responders typically have the necessary equipment to protect them, others without it are putting themselves at risk. Inhaling or absorbing carfentanil through their skin can be fatal.
How dangerous is carfentanil? So much so that some dealers provide Narcan with their clients’ purchases. Narcan is a drug used to reverse overdoses. Some ambitious sellers even administer the Narcan themselves.
What does Carfentanil Exposure Look Like?
Carfentanil exposure causes an intense and rapid onset. Some of the symptoms that might occur include:
• Clammy Skin
• Slow Pulse and Heart Rate
• Pinpoint Pupils
• Cold to the Touch
• Bluish Tinge to Skin, Nails, and Lips
• Difficult or Absent Breathing
Although Narcan is often provided as a means to reverse an overdose, doing so with carfentanil is more difficult than with other drugs. It often takes multiple doses and still may not be effective. Depending on the amount of the drug taken and the amount of time between the exposure and the attempted reversal, the Narcan may not be successful. The person may incur brain damage, go into a coma, or die. If the drug is mixed with other drugs, either deliberately or without their knowledge, the risk of overdose is much greater.
Potential Health Effects of Using Carfentanil
Physical dependence is a potential risk associated with any opioid drug. With one as potent as carfentanil, the risk is even more serious. Like all opioids, this one binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This results in a much greater production of dopamine, giving the user a feeling of euphoria.
If the person uses the drug repeatedly, the brain becomes dependent on the drug. This leads to a physical need for the drug. Addiction to the drug grows until getting more of it is the most important thing in their world.
What is Carfentanil Classified as?
Carfentanil is classified as a Schedule II Controlled Substance. Drugs in this category have a high potential for abuse, have currently accepted medical use, and the potential for abuse to lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Other opioids, including codeine and morphine, are classified in the same way. Although carfentanil has many of the same characteristics as other opioids, it is the drug’s potency which sets it apart. Carfentanil is the most potent opioid being marketed today.
Carfentanil is considered a ‘fentanyl analog’ and is often grouped together in statistics related to opioid use, overdoses, and related deaths. Increasingly, those numbers include more numbers due to carfentanil use. The drug is believed to have been manufactured in China and sent to the United States. Reports of its use began during 2016 when the initial use began in Ohio. From July to December of that year, the state reported almost 400 carfentanil related deaths. Other states which reported carfentanil and other fentanyl analog deaths during 2016 and 2017 include:
• New Hampshire
• New Mexico
• Rhode Island
• West Virginia
What's the Drug Doing in 2018?
One of the main factors that drive drug use is accessibility. Getting legal prescriptions to opioids is challenging unless you have a serious condition that requires painkillers. Getting synthetic opioids from drug dealers is a different matter. If you’re willing to pay the price, finding them isn’t that difficult. Especially if you search online!
Americans aren’t alone in the battle against synthetic opioids. But they are the largest consumers and the hardest hit. An average of 116 people die in this country from an opioid overdose every day. In comparison, carfentanil has the potential to exceed this number exponentially.
The majority of the drug comes from China due to poor regulations of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. This is one area where imposing stiff tariffs might benefit the country. For now, the president and house are only considering cracking down on users and imposing stiffer penalties.
Medicare officials are also attempting to address the problem of opioid use by cracking down on prescriptions for opioids. However, many experts worry that this will only cause people who really need the drugs to go to less reputable sources to get relief. This approach also won’t help with the growing carfentanil problem. It has no medical use and isn’t distributed by prescription.
What is the Estimated Use to be in the Future
Carfentanil use and misuse have continued to grow since 2016. Canada now refers to the drug as the ‘Drug of massive destruction.’ If previous drugs like methadone, fentanyl, and oxycontin are any indication, its use is only going to grow. The practice of cutting heroin with the synthetic opioid makes it very appealing to drug dealers and more dangerous to users.
Stopping the flow of carfentanil into this county will be very challenging. To date, the efforts made by the U.S. government have not been very effective at reducing the problem. The fact is that, even if we stop the influx of drugs from China, the drug is fairly easy to make in a home lab.
One thing we can do is to increase awareness. The more people know about carfentanil and its effects, the less likely they will be to encounter it. It takes only a particle the size of a spec of dust to cause a lethal overdose! If drug dealers are cutting heroin with it to save on costs, how much are they using?
People who use carfentanil are much more likely to overdose than with other opioids. For many, it’s not a worry about becoming addicted. It’s a matter of surviving.
Those who do become addicted to the drug can enter an opioid treatment program for recovery. The best approach is to enter a recovery program as soon as possible.
Parents need to educate their children on drug use and the potential hazards of all opioids. They need to realize the risk of exposure to carfentanil, even when they aren’t the ones using the drug. This is one drug that can be toxic, just by exposing yourself to someone else who uses it. There’s no safe way to use it and no guaranteed way to avoid it if you buy drugs illegally. Some of the bags of drugs confiscated in raids have been marked with a warning that they contain the dangerous opioid. Others don’t have any indication.
Getting Help for Opioid Addiction
People with any type of addiction to opioids or other drugs or alcohol can benefit from special treatment. Getting beyond the use of heroin is one way to ensure you don’t run into carfentanil without realizing it. You also avoid the risks associated with that drug.
The Health and Human Services announced five priorities for dealing with the opioid crisis including:
1. Giving users better access to treatment and recovery services. Having available treatment in a dependable, compassionate center where they can recover away from the pressures that lead to addiction.
2. Increasing the use of overdose-reversing drugs. Drugs like Narcan are more effective against other opioids than carfentanil. Making them more available to first responders could reduce the number of deaths caused by opioids.
3. Increasing awareness and the understanding of the epidemic by implementing better public health surveillance. Understanding the cause of addiction and the role it plays in everyone’s life and community.
4. Providing cutting-edge research for a better understanding of pain and addiction.
5. Better methods of pain management. Making the access to opioids unnecessary due to the introduction of other medications without the same risks.
Some medications used to treat opioid use disorder are highly underutilized. Methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine have the potential to help a lot of people. Finding a treatment center that makes use of medically assisted treatment helps make the process easier.
The opioid crisis has reached epidemic proportions in this country. Although every person who uses opioid drugs won’t become addicted, many will. Carfentanil promises to be the next major problem in what is already a nationwide crisis. Don’t let illegal drug use put you at risk for an overdose.