Right in the midst of the opioid crisis, another illicit drug has hit the streets of Seattle. Experts say it’s more potent and deadly than other opioids.
The DEA says carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl. It was first detected in Seattle in March. Experts insist its usage is “very rare” in the area, but nonetheless, it has surfaced in the city.
The timing couldn’t be worse. Two people in Washington state overdose on opioids each day. In King County, at least three teenagers have died from fentanyl overdoses recently.
“I was like, ‘Oh crap!’ ” said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green when he heard that carfentanil was detected in Seattle.
Banta-Green is a researcher and scientist at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. He has studied drug trends across the country for 25 years.
“It’s even that much more strong than fentanyl, you need even less of it to get people high or kill people on it,” Banta-Green said.
The DEA says carfentanil is sold as a white powdery substance, or in pill form, and is often combined with other drugs like heroin.
The state crime lab discovered traces of carfentanil in a syringe mixed with other drugs at an unauthorized homeless camp near Seattle’s Fremont Troll and the Aurora Bridge. It’s where five people overdosed on the same day in January — all survived. It is unknown if carfentanil is connected to those overdoses.
The unauthorized camp was shut down by the city. Seattle’s Navigation Team offered housing to the homeless living there.
At the time, the health department raised the red flag about carfentanil in one of its blog posts, calling it deadly, but very rare in Washington.
“With these new synthetic opioids, which we think are coming in from China, they’re so potent you only have to ship a little bit,” Banta-Green said, further noting that the synthetic drug has arrived in the area because it’s profitable.
The DEA calls it a “significant threat” to first responders who touch it by accident. The agency urges the use of personal-protection equipment. Banta-Green stressed that’s not the case for fentanyl. He said if someone is overdosing on fentanyl it’s not dangerous to the touch and people should not be afraid to help.
“Carfentanil is used for large animals, not for human beings … its dosing is very complicated,” he said.
Banta-Green said one of the big worries is that users don’t know what they’re getting. It’s an issue nationwide with counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl. While he believes the drugs are possibly entering the US by way of China, it first surfaced on the East Coast. He said there’s been a significant increase in fentanyl, and other fentanyl-related drugs, on the East Coast and in the Midwest for several years.
Six overdose deaths in Maryland were linked to carfentanil in 2017.
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