Maryland is seeing a spike in drug overdoses as a synthetic opioid utilized in large animals becomes more readily available. Law and health enforcement officials nationwide are concerned because it is 10,000 times more potent than the opiate, morphine and 5,000 more potent than the illegal street drug, heroin.
Two recent overdoses, one in Frederick County and the other in Ann Arundel County was linked to the synthetic drug. Carfentanil is utilized as a general anesthetic agent for elephants, hippos and rhinos.
Police and health departments nationwide have posted alerts about carfentanil. Organizations and clinics that work directly with addicts are stepping up efforts to make them aware of the carfentanil dangers.
“Usually when there’s one or two cases, there’s going to be several more right behind it,” said Steven Bell, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Police officers are also being warned to handle the drug with caution, because it can absorb through the skin. Anne Arundel County police officers are donning personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks with an eye shield, before handling any suspected drug.
Since carfentanil is so potent that naloxone is less effective, so several doses may be required to reverse the effects. Two months ago, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in response to the rapidly developing opioid crises. From January to September 2016, Maryland recorded 1,468 deaths linked to drug overdoses, which exceeded the 1,259 overdose deaths in all of 2015. Drug overdoses are responsible for more deaths in Maryland than homicides and motor vehicle fatalities.
By late Friday, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene had already confirmed three local carfentanil-related overdose deaths. Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan began recording carfentanil overdoses last summer and now they are spreading east.
Carfentanil is similar to heroin, an off-white powder. However, a single grain can prove to be deadly even for an adult. Police have so much difficulty detecting the drug that they have been forced to utilize a mass spectrometer, an instrument that is capable of measuring concentrations of molecules and atoms. Unbeknownst to users, some dealers are mixing carfentanil with heroin.