Substance Abuse

What Is Carfentanil and Why Is It Being Abused?


There is a huge crusade against the propagation of illegal substances in the U.S. as well as other countries. These illegal substances have claimed many lives with unlawful usage of painkillers where they are commonly sold through the black market.

People who engage in the use of illegal drugs may or may not be aware of the long-term effects. Despite reports of the proliferation of these drugs, authorities could not pinpoint as to where these drugs originated.

Opioids are the drugs of choice to relieve moderate to severe pain that cannot be alleviated using ordinary pain medications. Some common opioids include codeine, fentanyl, meperidine, methadone and oxycodone. These drugs can be purchased through a prescription by a physician with a special license.

Unfortunately, there are those who buy them through the black market beyond its appropriate medical use. What happens then is a subsequent drug abuse and increase in the number of deaths due to overdose.

Authorities have recently faced another challenge with this new street drug called fentanyl. One popular case involving fentanyl is the death of Prince in April 2016. Another drug is set to take the growing drug problem by storm, and the substance is called carfentanil.

What is Carfentanil?

Carfentanil, believed to be 100 times stronger than fentanyl, is a sedative commonly used by animal handlers for big mammals such as elephants. The drug is found to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine. It is a fast-acting analgesic that instantly immobilizes an individual after intravenous injection.

It is marketed as a general anesthetic and commercially known as Wildnil. This was first synthesized in the 1970s for veterinary purposes and not for any medical treatment for humans.

The spotlight on carfentanil emerged lately due to its high abuse potential. This drug is categorized under Schedule II – drugs having a high risk for abuse – and has now become the new drug of choice, which can pose extremely dangerous consequences because of its high potency compared to using heroin.

This substance is being sold to users as heroin or mixed with a certain amount of heroin. Carfentanil is now considered as the most potent of all opiates.

When carfentanil is laced with heroin, its potency and danger grows exponentially. Once ingested, the effect is felt instantly, which can be too much for the body to handle. This kind of drug can be injected intravenously, smoked or snorted.

Just like fentanyl, carfentanil is easily absorbed through the skin or through inhalation. Getting in contact with this drug even in minute amounts will definitely require medical help. As a result, veterinarians who administer this drug are in full protective gear (face shield, gloves and apron) to ensure their safety.

Cases of carfentanil use

Over the last few months, there has been an increase in heroin overdose cases, and law enforcement officials believe that carfentanil may be involved with these cases. The effect of the drug mimics that of the natural euphoria after having a hearty meal or being surprised by a loved one. With the use of carfentanil, a euphoric sensation may be felt by an individual who has ingested it.

If taken regularly and in large doses, carfentanil may lead to cessation of breathing, which in turn may cause brain damage, coma, and eventually death. Any mixture of drugs can pose extreme danger to our health, and its side effects can create serious damage to the body.

The deadly combination of heroin and carfentanil has been reported from Hamilton County and other areas around Akron, Cincinnati and Columbus in Ohio. Cases of rampant selling on the streets resorted to increased number of carfentanil users.

Reports revealed that for three consecutive days, there were 25 overdose cases from which four were fatal. In Columbus, out of 10 reported overdose cases, two of them resulted to death, all within a period of nine hours.

Rayshon Alexander pled guilty when he was charged for murder, for causing the death of two individuals due to carfentanil use. It was reported that Alexander sold the drug to these individuals. Survivors, however, said that they didn’t know that it was carfentamil, because the drug was sold to them as heroin.

Hamiton County Health Commissioner Tim Ingram said that this particular drug would definitely kill so many people. Nalcone may be available as an antidote for opiate overdose, but it may not be strong enough to save lives.

Death involving opioid abuse has increased since 2014, leaving about 14,000 deaths due to overdose.  Cases involved with carfentanil overdose have been sprouting in different states such as Ohio, Florida and Kentucky, with the drug believed to be sold as heroin. Authorities are still unaware where these drugs are originating – whether they are stolen from a legitimate source, shipped from abroad or manufactured in the U.S. Some users say that carfentanil can be bought online from several companies in China.

The Danger in Carfentamil

The use of combination of drugs may pose a high risk of harm to individuals because of extreme effects that the heart and lungs may not be able to handle. Because of its colorless and odorless properties, carfentamil can easily pass through visual detection unless a laboratory test is performed.

A former fentanyl user may have switched to heroin. However, with prolonged use, the effect may not be the same as the first time he has used it. What he would do is to find a replacement that could give him a different kind of “high”, and that is when it becomes extremely fatal when a cocktail of two drugs is being introduced into the system.

Drug dealers have taken a step further in increasing their supply of heroin by mixing it with carfentanil. Some unknowing users would readily buy these drugs.

The Journal of Veterinary Medicine published an article pertaining to the dangers of being exposed to carfentanil. This is something that should not be ignored. Proper knowledge in the handling and counteractive treatment should be at hand; otherwise, it can cause serious health conditions.

Meanwhile, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine revealed an incident involving a man who accidentally came in contact with carfentamil. The person immediately felt the effect of being drowsy. He was hurriedly taken to the hospital and was injected with 100 mg of naltroxene. This goes to show that an individual can immediately be symptomatic even at a very small amount of exposure to carfentanil.

People who have ingested carfentanil would not easily suspect the substance as carfentanil because it is colorless and odorless. When heroin overdose is expected, a single dose of naloxone should be enough to treat the case. However, if the ingested heroin has been laced with other drugs such as fentanyl, it is required to use multiple doses of naloxone.

The drug was created for animal use only, specifically large animals such as African elephants. The weight of an average African Elephant is 10,000 lbs. A single dose of 10 mg of Carfentamil is powerful enough to sedate an elephant. Imagine the effect that it does to a human with an average weight of 180 pounds!

Information has been circulating about how carfentanil may have been used as a chemical weapon during the hostage crisis in Russia back in 2002, causing death to 170 people. The gas ultimately killed 130 of the hostages and 40 attackers. The survivors’ urine samples were tested and found to have carfentanil as one of the chemical agents pumped to kill the hostages.

Uses of Carfentanil

Carfentanil was originally designed for the following purposes:

  • Wildlife Management Programs
  • Veterinary and Animal Practices
  • Research Purposes

Administration is only done by licensed practitioners.

Extreme precautionary measures are taken when handling this drug. Animals are strictly monitored because of the drug’s potency and for its possible adverse effects. The same goes with those who are handling the drug. Extreme care is always taken because of any accidental exposure or misuse can be lethal.

It is also required to keep Naltrexone HCl within reach as a means of counteracting the effect of carfentanil in case of accidental exposure. Veterinarians who are qualified to handle this drug need to be well informed about how to properly use the drug and how to reverse the effect during unexpected exposure.

Veterinarians using carfentanil should take note of the following:

  • measurement of pulse and respiration
  • prevention of aspiration
  • relief of bloat
  • obstetrics
  • control of shock and hemorrhage
  • recognition of hyperventilation and heat exhaustion
  • immobilization of fractures

Any inappropriate use of this drug on animals may lead to respiratory and cardiovascular complications.

Animal Drug on the Street

With widespread selling on the internet and on the streets, carfentanil is indeed something that parents would want to warn their children about especially those who frequent clubs and parties. Trading happens every night.

This is not the first time that an animal tranquilizer has been inappropriately used by humans. In the 90’s, ketamine, an anesthetic designed for cats, has become popular as a date rape drug. It was reported that a dealer used a stolen DEA licensed number to order a large quantity of ketamine in vials for selling in New York City.

Carfentanil Chemistry

Carfentanil Citrate is methyl 4- (1-oxopropyl) phenylaminol-1-(2 phenylethyl)-4-piperidinecarboxylate-2 hydroxy-1, 2, 3-propanetricarboxylate (1:1).Each ml contains: Carfentanil citrate 4.46 mg (equivalent to 3 mg Carfentanil), sodium chloride 8 mg, methyl paraben 1.8 mg, propyl paraben 0.2 mg in water for injection.

In Related News

Senator Rob Portman said he will introduce a bill that will make it difficult for drugs to be shipped into the U.S. He added that the postal system should include electronic advance data on packages before it is shipped into the U.S. The following information should be filled:

  • Origin and destination of the package
  • Complete name of sender and recipient
  • Full description of the content of the package

In doing so, it will be difficult for drug traffickers to send fentanyl and carfentanil through mail.


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