Carfentanil Featured On Vice News Tonight: ‘Two Milligrams Enough To Kill 100 People’

By Victoria Kim 10/20/16

Much is unknown about the powerful elephant sedative that has recently been linked to hundreds of overdoses. 

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Carfentanil Featured On Vice News Tonight: ‘Two Milligrams Enough To Kill 100 People’
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We’ve been hearing more and more about carfentanil—the elephant tranquilizer that’s been turning up in batches of street heroin.

In a recent episode of the new HBO series, Vice News Tonight, the program spotlights the powerful opioid and its growing presence in the United States. 

“Two milligrams of carfentanil would be enough to kill 100 people,” said Jill M. Head, supervisory chemist at the DEA Special Testing and Research Lab in Sterling, Virginia. 

Some drug dealers are adding tiny amounts of the “incredibly potent” veterinary anesthetic to boost batches of heroin and maximize profit. According to Head, the drug has so far turned up in several U.S. states including Florida, Rhode Island, Georgia, West Virginia, and Michigan.

Ohio has been hit especially hard by carfentanil, which authorities first detected in the state this past July. Overdose cases peaked in August, when Cincinnati saw 174 overdoses in a six-day span. (Most of them were not fatal.)

Still from Vice News Tonight

Previously, health and law enforcement officials across the U.S. and Canada were most concerned about heroin being cut with fentanyl, another potent opioid which is blamed for Prince’s death in April.

Fentanyl is said to be about 80 times stronger than morphine. Carfentanil, a drug typically used to sedate large animals like elephants and rhinos, is 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

“The total volume of [carfentanil] that’s required to get this elephant to lie down and sleep is in a matter of milliliters,” chief veterinarian Dr. Donald Neiffer of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo told Vice News. "[It's] not a large volume, so it’s a big deal."

The drug is so powerful that just coming into contact with it can be fatal. The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement last month warning the public and law enforcement officials to exercise caution: “Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities. We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin. It is crazy dangerous.” 

But despite all the warnings, some are attracted by the notion of a more potent high. Cincinnati police officer Jamie Landrum told NPR last month that some people travel across state lines to find carfentanil. 

“It’s what we don’t know about this drug that scares us,” Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco told NPR. “We don’t have any human testing data. We don’t know what the lethal level really is. There is no therapeutic level—it’s not meant for human use.”

The carfentanil segment starts at the 12:17 mark. 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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