Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous illegal drugs on the streets today, with one three-milligram dose capable of instantaneous death (as compared with a lethal heroin dose of 30 milligrams). Carfentanil, a tranquilizer used to sedate large animals such as elephants, is a fentanyl analog that is 100 times the potency of fentanyl, 5,000 times the potency of heroin, and 10,000 times the potency of morphine, all drugs that are part of the opioid crisis devastating the country.
The appearance of illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF) on the streets has increased in recent years and is killing thousands of people in the midst of the U.S. opioid crisis. Though IMF is also sold as pure IMF, the synthetic opioid is often cut into other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine and sold as those drugs. It is also cut into benzos, pressed into pills, and sold as prescription drugs, such as Oxycodone. Drug users then unknowingly ingest or inject lethal amounts of fentanyl in just one dose.
Legal fentanyl is still available when prescribed by a doctor, and these prescriptions can also be abused. The gel in prescription patches can be removed and ingested or injected. There is no legal prescription for carfentanil. Both are contributors to the opioid crisis.
What is the opioid crisis?
Every day, over 115 Americans die from opioid overdose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New preliminary estimates from the CDC put the number of drug overdose deaths in 2017 at 72,000, a ten percent increase from 2016. The reason for this change is due to more people using opioids and the increasing deadliness of drugs.
Misuse of opioids— naturally-derived opiates like heroin and morphine, prescription medications, and synthetics like fentanyl— has become a public health concern, as opioid overdose rates have risen over the last several years and continue to rise.
Opioids are highly addictive drugs that work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and releasing “feel good” chemicals to induce feelings of pleasure and euphoria. This rush, or high, changes the brain’s physical structure over time and is what creates opioid addiction, as repeated use builds tolerance and users require more and more of a substance in order to experience desired effects from the drugs.
How is carfentanil different from other opioids?
Carfentanil is much more dangerous than fentanyl. Though IMF is lethal, carfentanil was never intended for human use. Simply breathing in dust particles or coming into skin contact with the drug can be fatal.
The synthetic opioid is used in veterinary medicine, but unlike ketamine (a commonly used veterinary anesthetic), there are no medical applications or treatments involving carfentanil. Ketamine was developed for human consumption as an anesthetic for surgery and later became part of veterinary protocol, not the other way around.
Today, ketamine is often prescribed for treatment-resistant depression, though the drug is also notorious for being a psychedelic club drug (Special K) and date-rape drug.
In recent months, carfentanil has been linked to the opioid crisis, but there is not a lot of data available on carfentanil use generally, such as death rates and regional use, though there have been reports of carfentinal sales and related overdoses across the country. Fentanyl death rates, though, are alarming, and carfentanil is far deadlier, even if it is less prevalent.
Whether additional funding, increased public awareness, and proposed congressional bills will help curb the reach of the opioid crisis is uncertain, but hopeful.
Royal Life Centers is a network of full-service alcohol and drug detox and treatment centers. We treat dependence on opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at (877)-RECOVERY for help or with any questions that you may have about detox or our inpatient or outpatient programs.