The Drug Enforcement Agency is putting Arizona – its law enforcement, first responders and citizens – on alert about a new drug threat. People here are getting their hands on a highly dangerous drug called carfentanil and it has already claimed a life.
Chemically similar to fentanyl but stronger, carfentanil has “an analgesic potency 10,000 times that of morphine and is used in veterinary practice to immobilize certain large animals,” according to the DEA’s online fentanyl fact sheet. Yes, it's used to tranquilize elephants. The sheer potency of carfentanil means it does not take much of the drug to be deadly.
The Canadian Center for Addictions offers some perspective: "The equivalent of one gran of salt of Carfentanil is enough to kill a human being," reads a graphic produced by the center.
According to a news alert from the Phoenix Field Division of the DEA, a 21-year-old man was found dead behind the wheel of a car parked outside a restaurant late last year.
“The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s report confirmed the presence of carfentanil, yet the source of the carfentanil remains unknown,” according to the alert.
No other details were provided.
"Drug dealers have been cutting carfentanil and its weaker cousin, fentanyl, into heroin and other illicit drugs to boost profit margins," according to the Associated Press. Because of that, carfentanil has been connected to overdose deaths throughout the country, but this incident is the first of its kind in Arizona.
“Carfentanil is an extremely dangerous drug and its presence in Arizona should be incredibly alarming for all of us, including the DEA and our law enforcement partners who continue to combat the opioid epidemic in this state,” said Doug Coleman, Special Agent in Charge of DEA in Arizona.
He also warned that first responders should do everything possible to “prevent incidental exposure.”
Last summer, an Ohio police officer accidentally overdosed on fentanyl during what was supposed to be a routine arrest. All Officer Chris Green did was brush the powder off his shirt.
It took four doses of Narcan to reverse the effects of the drug and save Green’s life.
The opioid epidemic has been at the forefront of the national consciousness for quite some time now.
Just last week, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adam issued an advisory recommending more people carry naloxone, the brand name of which is Narcan.
Naloxone can help restore normal breathing in somebody who has overdosed on opioids, both prescription and illicit.
The advisory is the first of its kind in more than a decade. The last one was about drinking during pregnancy.
"[K]nowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life,” according to Adams.
While reversing overdoses with naloxone can save lives, the endgame is to keep addictions from getting to that point.
“We must stress the importance of treatment for those addicted to these dangerous opioids prior to their attempted use of this extremely lethal drug,” Coleman said.
According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, carfentanil was first synthesized in 1974. Its use as an illicit narcotic, however, began relatively recently.
Not only is carfentanil more potent than fentanyl, an overdose is less likely to be reversed by naloxone/Narcan, according to the Center.
The information about the carfentanil OD death was part of recent reporting by the DEA’s Heroin Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), the mission of which is “to identify and arrest drug traffickers directly responsible for overdose deaths.”
The DEA HEAT is working to determine the source of the carfentanil that killed that 21-year-old man last year, but they need your help to do it.
“Agents are seeking the assistance of the community and law enforcement to share information concerning the availability of this and any other synthetic opioids as they surface within local drug markets,” the news alert explained.
If you have information or questions about this death or other illicit drug-related activity, you can contact the Phoenix DEA office at 602-664-5600 to speak with a duty agent or visit www.dea.gov to report a synthetic drug source.
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