Carfentanil is one of the most potent opioids available, and a surge in overdose deaths this past summer may be linked to the prescription drug. The unprecedented number of reports prompted numerous health officials and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to issue warnings to alert the public about the danger of carfentanil.
Used to sedate moose and elephants, carfentanil is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl. The super powerful drug was created in 1974 to help treat large animals for pain. More recently, it is bought and sold on the black market in pill form or mixed with other drugs.
Wayne County, Michigan, has been hit especially hard with drug overdoses potentially related to carfentanil. Since July, county health authorities have reported 19 deaths related to opioid use and say carfentanil is to blame.
“With the confirmation that carfentanil has been linked to at least 19 deaths in Wayne County, residents and healthcare providers should be on alert to the dangers that carfentanil poses,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Opioid and heroin use alone can be fatal. With the introduction of carfentanil to the drug supply, the risks of use are even greater.”
While health authorities and drug enforcement agencies in the U.S. are doing their best to prevent people from getting ahold of the dangerous drug and reduce overdose deaths, it appears carfentanil is easily obtainable online. According to a recent CBS News report, 12 Chinese companies are willing to sell the drug to anyone, no questions asked. The businesses openly stated they would be willing to ship carfentanil to customers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, and Australia for less than $2,800 per kilogram.
Carfentanil is not a controlled substance in China, and the country is unlikely to regulate it anytime soon, despite strong pressure from the U.S. government to do so. China is currently the largest supplier of synthetic drugs in the world, much of which ends up in the America.
“The government should impose very serious limits, but in reality in China it’s so difficult to control because if I produce 1 or 2 kilograms, how will anyone know?” said Xu Liqun, president of Hangzhou Reward Technology, which offered to produce carfentanil. “They cannot control you, so many products, so many labs.”
In 2015, China added 116 synthetic drugs to its list of controlled substances, including acetylfentanyl. Six months after the ban, the number of acetylfentanyl seizures by U.S. drug enforcement agencies dropped 60 percent. Despite the prohibition, some of the Chinese vendors who are willing to sell carfentanil are also still open to producing and exporting acetylfentanyl, according to the AP.
Carfentanil also has another nasty and potentially deadly reputation. Researchers in China, the U.K., Russia, Israel, the Czech Republic, India, and even the U.S. have been studying its potential use in war as a chemical weapon. However, under rules created by the Chemical Weapons Convention, carfentanil is banned from the battlefield. Yet, that will not likely prevent some from using it.
U.S. defense experts worry terrorists groups like ISIS can easily obtain carfentanil and use it in future attacks. Strategies are currently being developed by various defense agencies to counteract or prevent such possibilities.
“It’s a weapon,” said Andrew Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs from 2009 to 2014. “Companies shouldn’t be just sending it to anybody.”
As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2014 and the number is on the rise. Current research suggests the misuse of prescription opioids often leads to abuse of stronger, more dangerous drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]