ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Recently, drug dealers have been cutting heroin with carfentanil to increase profit. However, this medicine is not meant for human use. In fact, carfentanil was originally designed to tranquilize large mammals. This article reviews what you need to know about carfentanil, the dangers associated with it, and tips for finding treatment if you’re struggling with an addiction. At the end, we invite you to ask questions. We try to respond personally and promptly to all real-life questions.
ESTIMATED READING TIME: Less than 10 minutes.
Table of Contents:
- What Carfentanil Is
- Brain Effects
- Why Overdose Happens
- Overdose Precautions
- Health Risks
- Trends and Statistics
- Basics to Treatment
- Where to Find Help
- Your Questions
What is Carfentanil?
Carfentanil is estimated to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine.
However, carfentanil wasn’t created for people to use. Back in 1986, the chemical was labeled under the brand name “Wildnil”. It was used in tranquilizer darts designed for large mammals such as elephants. Carfentanil was the perfect drug for this task, as the overdose risk is similar to that of its cousin, fentanyl, but still contains much higher opioid activity.
The risks involved with human consumption of carfentanil are HUGE. Overdose risk is extremely high. All it takes is 1 microgram to provoke psychoactive effects. With that in mind, it’s understandable why drug dealers are cutting it with heroin. Even the smallest amounts of the opioid cause dosing reaction, and in this way, a small supply of the drug can cause heroin profits to soar.
But how does such a powerful drug affect the brain?
How Does it Affect the Brain?
These receptors are attached to neurotransmitters which then carry chemical signals throughout the rest of the body. This can be highly effective if you’re experiencing severe pain in a particular area, as these neurotransmitters travel to where a pain is most intense and change the way that we perceive pain. Opioids can also case euphoric effect, the feeling of being high.
The effects of opioids are strong and very addictive. Short-term effects from taking an opioid drug like carfentanil include:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Pain relief
People develop an addiction to opioids through a chemical change in the brain and body. Over time, the body becomes drug-dependent; we chemically develop a necessity for the drug as a means of feeling normal. Without the drug, the body goes through withdrawal.
Though this happens over a period of time, it should be noted that it doesn’t take long to develop dependence on opioids: usually, drug dependence can occur with about 3 weeks of regular use. When use persists, a person is unable to stop despite the negative effects the drug has on her/his life. In these cases, an addiction can begin.
Why Overdose Happens
In fact, it’s been determined that of all the dangers of carfentanil, overdose is most likely. Cincinnati, Ohio experienced these consequences in just one weekend where 30 people overdosed because the drug was added to heroin. In the same area, the following weekend, another 78 overdosed.
An overdose occurs when you take too much of a drug. It literally overwhelms the body. In particular, opioids affect the regulation of breathing and heart rate. When you take too much of an opioid drug, your respiratory and cardiovascular systems slow until they stop. How can you prevent an overdose?
There are signs to be aware of when someone is experiencing an overdose:
- Body goes limp.
- Breathing or heartbeat slows or stops.
- Face grows very pale and/or seems clammy upon touch.
- Lips or fingernails turn a purple or blue color.
- Unable to be awakened or cannot speak.
- Vomiting or making gurgling sounds.
So, what should you do if someone overdoses?
IT’S VITAL YOU CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY!
A fatal overdose can be prevented under the right medical attention. Calling emergency services needs to be your first priority. However, there are a few steps you can take in order to administer immediate action:
- If naloxone is available, administrate it. Most likely, the medical professionals who arrive will use it as a means of stopping the overdose. Naloxone quickly blocks the effects of opioids within the body. You can either inject it into the muscle or spray it into the nose.
- Attempt to keep the person awake by talking to him/her and try to keep them breathing, through CPR if necessary.
- Make sure the person is placed on their side. This prevents them from choking on bodily fluids.
- Stay by the person’s side until emergency services arrive. When it comes to an overdose, there’s no telling what can happen within just seconds.
When it comes to opioid overdoses, most can be prevented through careful steps. When it comes to carfentanil, the story is a little different as it’s so powerful of a drug. Since so little can cause an overdose – and most don’t know whether or not or how much of their drugs are cut with carfentanil – there are GREAT risks involved.
And these risks go beyond an overdose.
Carfentanil Health Risks
- Increase in blood pressure (particularly, in the brain)
- Muscle spasms
- Postponed or decreased respiratory function
- Respiratory arrest
- Tightening of chest muscles
However, just as with other opioids, there are also long-term problems which can occur from a prolonged period of use. These include:
- Abdominal distention and bloating
- Brain damage
- Development of mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety
- Development of tolerance
- Heart complications
- Liver damage
- Nausea and vomiting
Furthermore, since carfentanil can be laced with heroin, there are health risks involved for people who inject as a means to get high including:
- Hepatitis B (HBV)
- Hepatitis C (HCV)
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
According to medical examiners and coroners, the number of deaths due to carfentanil increased by 94% from the second half of 2016 (421 deaths) to the first half of 2017 (815 deaths).
Carfentanil Trends and Statistics
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention analyzes opioid death through death certificates from 32 states and the District of Colombia. Of their analysis of fatal opioid doses between July 2016 and June 2017, it was discovered that – of 11,045 opioid overdose deaths – 1,236 (11.2%) had positive test results for carfentanil.
Furthermore, the trends of overdose have been found to be area specific.
- Within 2016 and 2017, Ohio had the largest number of carfentanil laced opioid deaths with September of 2016 being the peak month at 86 deaths.
- Opioid overdose deaths where Carfentanil was present increased across the world in the second half of 2016, from 54 countries affected to 77.
These trends are able to give us insight into how Carfentanil has only recently made its way into the illicit market. For the most current drug-related trends, including where synthetic opioids are making an appearance, you can follow the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Emerging Trends and Alerts for all the latest information.
Basic to Treatment
You or your loved one has the ability to stop and start a new life!
Addiction treatment typically works like this:
1. First, a Medical Assessment
Medical assessment forms the basis of any treatment plan. When you’re ready to get help, a team of doctors, nurses, and therapists will perform physical and mental exams. You can expect to go through a full medical exam, provide blood and/or urine samples, and go through interviews. This first assessment is crucial to your treatment plan. A good medical assessment should take from 1-2 hours to complete.
2. Then, Medical Detox
In order to get past physical dependence, your body must undergo withdrawal. This is the process of removing an opioid from your system and getting back to your natural body chemistry – a state known as “homeostasis”.
Since opioid withdrawal has some risks such as dehydration and relapse, it’s important you find a detox facility. This will allow you to be in a controlled and safe environment while medical treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms. You can expect to be in detox for about a week, with symptoms peaking 72 hours after your last dose of opium. These symptoms include:
◦ Abdominal cramping
◦ Dilated pupils
◦ Increased tearing
◦ Muscle aches
◦ Runny nose
Once an opioid is out of your system, you’re going to experience strong. This is due to the fact that your brain has been dependent on opiates and must readjust back into day-to-day life without it.
Typically, psychotherapies are designed to teach you how to handle everyday emotions and life stressors. They are highly effective not only in showing you how to live a sober life but also in helping with any mental health conditions which may have arisen due to your opiate use. Furthermore, psychotherapies will reduce cravings. Typical therapies include:
◦ Behavioral Therapy
◦ Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
◦ Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT)
◦ Contingency Management
◦ Dialectical Behavior Therapy
◦ Group Therapy
◦ Family Therapy
◦ Individual Counseling
◦ Integrative Approach
◦ Motivational Interviewing
◦ Multidimensional Family Therapy
◦ Narcotics Anonymous (NAA)
4. Pharmacotherapy (Medication)
Medications can help to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. When it comes to opioid withdrawal or longer term maintenance, typical medications prescribed are:
5. Education and Aftercare Services
Once you begin to learn enough to get back into your day-to-day routine, you’ll have the option learn more. Addiction treatment programs should educate you about how drugs affect your brain … and how to cope without them. You may also be invited to go to meetings to connect with others who are going through the same thing. A support system helps maintain sobriety and stops you from isolating. Other aftercare services include ongoing counseling, sober living houses, and alumni programs.
Where to Find Help
So, where do you go first? The first point of contact can be your general doctor or family physician. S/He can perform a brief assessment and then refer you to treatment centers within your area. From there, you can begin researching different types of treatment programs and their requirements. You can also find help through specialists like:
- Addiction doctors (find an ABAM specialist near you)
- Psychotherapists and counselors (find an APA psychologist member near you)
- Psychiatrists (find an ABA psychiatrist near you)
Furthermore, keep an eye out for support groups either outside or within your treatment program.
The people involved in these will help you along the recovery process. If you need to reach out to someone immediately, here are some hotline numbers to contact:
- Drug Hotline: 877-736-9802
- National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI): 800-729-6686
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hope Line: 800-475-HOPE (4673)
- National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Service 800-622-4357
- National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or 800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
- Substance Abuse Helpline (available 24/7): 800-923-4327
- Relapse Prevention Hotline: 800-RELAPSE (735-2773)
When you’re ready to look for treatment, we’re always glad to help! Feel free to give us a call. Or, you can leave us a personal question in the comment section below.
We try to reply to each comment in a prompt and personal manner.