Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Websites and international smuggling rings are fueling a surge in overdoses thought to be due to the elephant-strength opioid carfentanil.

In the past few months, a string of overdoses across the U.S. has been linked to an opioid drug so potent that it’s not intended for human consumption.
Carfentanil is the world's most powerful commercial opioid, considered to be 100 times more potent than its relative fentanyl, the carefully controlled prescription painkiller linked to Prince's death, which itself is 50 times stronger than heroin.
Originally synthesized in the 1970s, carfentanil is marketed under the name Wildnil as a general anaesthetic for large animals like elephants, and was never intended for humans. But like any number of new synthetic drugs, it’s easily finding its way from clandestine labs and into the illicit drug supply through the mail. Sold openly on the web or through drug markets on the anonymous Tor network, the drug is being added to heroin and counterfeit pain medication by traffickers and often taken by users who don't know exactly what they're consuming.
"We’re seeing a lot of the activity take place over the internet through anonymous relationships between a consumer and the drug manufacturer or source of supply," says Russ Baer, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. The agency has warned communities across the country to be on alert for the drug, and has told first responders to wear protective gloves and masks, since the drug can be dangerous to someone who simply touches it.
Both drugs, along with a growing cornucopia of illicit synthetics, are largely being manufactured in China, Baer says, and smuggled into the United States both over land and through the U.S. Postal Service. In June, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it had seized almost 200 pounds in fentanyl and other synthetic opioids—that is, those made purely in labs, rather than from the opium poppy—compared to only 8 pounds the previous year.
In recent months, hundreds of drug overdoses have been linked to carfentanil and fentanyl, a related opioid said to be 100 times the strength of morphine and commonly used to treat severe pain in cancer patients. The drug has showed up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, in western Pennsylvania, central Kentucky, and in Ohio, where, in one county this August, at least 96 heroin users overdosed in a single week.

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