Columns, Opinion

Let Your Hair Down: Abuse of animal sedative Carfentanil exacerbates the opioid crisis

A new life-threatening opioid, carfentanil, has found its way into the recreational drug market, raising public health concerns to an alarming level. 

It is approved for veterinary practices as a medical tranquilizing agent and marketed under the trade name “Wildnil.” The drug was first synthesized in 1974 by a team of chemists and is intended for large-animal use only. Due to its extreme strength, carfentanil is inappropriate for use in humans.

With little scientific literature reviewing new drugs, it is difficult to identify these substances and their side effects. However, carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, making it terrifyingly easy for humans to overdose. 

Side effects for humans include dizziness, clammy skin, shallow breathing, heart failure and serious respiratory depression. Carfentanil has already been linked to 1,200 deaths across 10 different states in a year. 

These crafted opioids have popped up in the lucrative U.S. heroin markets, mainly enveloping states on the east coast. White powder heroin, rather than black or brown, mixes easily with synthetic opioids like carfentanil. Its low price and longer-lasting high when cut with carfentanil incentivizes consumers. As a result, users may not know what they are buying and how potent the mixture is. 

Russian military troops have used carfentanil to incapacitate Chechen terrorists. Now, this substance is soaring in popularity as a highly accessible street drug. Staying ahead of the underground drug market has never been such a daunting task. 

What does this mean for America’s expanding drug culture?

The emergence of carfentanil poses a whole new set of problems for drug enforcement officers. The drug’s strength limits first responders’ ability to reverse the damage through antidotes like naloxone. Also, because the body rapidly metabolizes it, the time that law enforcement has to react with medical support at the scene of an overdose is significantly shortened. 

Additionally, carfentanil is so powerful that it threatens the first responders who accidentally come into direct contact with the drug. Carfentanil can be absorbed through skin contact, so non-drug users can overdose by merely touching it. 

These characteristics increase the danger for drug users, blurring the line between life and death. Carfentanil’s potency, affordability and effortless consumption make it a direct route to a quick and easy overdose.

As more inventive opioid products enter America’s drug ecosystem, more and more users are growing increasingly unaware of what they are buying and how their bodies will react to life-threatening substances. 

Rather than focusing solely on the incarceration of dealers, public officials should turn their attention toward how and why these opioids are spreading through cities so quickly. With a drug powerful enough to tranquilize an elephant spreading rapidly throughout drug markets, doctors and law enforcement will have a harder time approaching this ceaseless cycle of drug control. 


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