Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 80 times more potent than fentanyl and 8,000 times more potent than heroin. Having been created and used as an elephant tranquilizer in China, it has now found its way into the hands of the public. This drug is so deadly to humans that it is considered a terrorist threat and was researched for years as a chemical weapon due to its potency. An amount smaller than a poppy seed is enough to kill a human; in 2002 Russian forces used it to subdue Chechen separatists at a Moscow theater.
The opioid epidemic has impacted the United States more than most other nations. More than 17,000 people die each year due to opioid overdoses. In the past year, carfentanil has hit the streets in our nation. There have been hundreds of law enforcement seizures of mass amounts of this new, super-potent opioid in multiple states. The internet sites that sell this drug abroad normally charge a few thousand dollars per kilogram of carfentanil, with no questions asked. Another dangerous aspect of carfentanil: it is being sold online as fentanyl. Law enforcement agents recently seized what was thought to be normal fentanyl later learned it was actually carfentanil re-labeled. This switch resulted in several deaths in the last three months of 2016.
But there is hope. Earlier this month, China enacted a game-changing law to ban not only carfentanil, but also its three less-potent cousins; furanyl fentanyl, acryl fentanyl and valeryl fentanyl. This move supports getting these drugs off the street and out of the hands of illegal distributors. China made a similar decision in 2015 to ban 116 drugs. As a result, seizures of the banned drugs plummeted in the United States. We can only hope that this same trend will follow the March 1 carfentanil ban.
The war on illicit and abused opioids needs to remain a top priority as scientists and chemists continue research and creation of new potent synthetic opioids.
Luke Parnell, pharmacy program liaison