By Angelica Coleman
The emergence of synthetic opioid carfentanil has recently warranted a public safety warning from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the U.S. The drug is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, as reported by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
In the city of Cincinnati, where heroin usage has been growing at an alarming rate, a drug like carfentanil means trouble. Suspected cases of carfentanil usage were seen in Hamilton County, Ohio as early as July 2016, according to NPR.
“In the spectrum of opiates, this is about max. Out of all of them, carfentanil really is the most potent,” reports the coroner of Hamilton County, Lakshmi Sammarco. The drug is designed to anesthetize large animals, and was never intended for use in humans due to its extreme level of potency. According to the Open Chemistry Database, as little as one microgram of carfentanil can have an effect in humans.
Reports of the drug have, thus far, only surfaced in Ohio and Kentucky, the DEA confirms. However, carfentanil is gaining popularity among opioid users precisely because of its lethal strength. The potency of this synthetic drug is viewed as an indicator of the high that can be achieved through abuse of the substance.
“People seem to equate near death with a really good high, and the problems in Cincinnati are attracting customers,” writes NPR contributor Jake Harper. Exposure is not only a risk for those seeking out the drug, but for the law enforcement officials responding to reports as well. The DEA warns against accidental exposure in an Officer Safety Report, as the drug is similar in appearance to more common drugs such as powdered cocaine and heroin. Additionally, it is believed that a lethal dosage can be absorbed through the skin.
Carfentanil represents an unprecedented hazard for law enforcement officials, and is contributing to the rapid increase in opioid overdose deaths seen in the U.S., according to the DEA. As these potent, synthetic drugs increase in popularity and accessibility, new and improved defense measures will be necessary to truly impact this burgeoning issue.