New Strain of Fentanyl Could Be Resistant To Narcan, DEA Warns

By Kelly Burch 05/08/17

The potent fentanyl analogue is reportedly 100 times stronger than morphine.

person holding a narcan injector.
Photo via YouTube

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is warning of a new type of fentanyl hitting the U.S. drug market that is so strong that it could possibly be resistant to the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan (naloxone). 

Acryl fentanyl is said to be 100 times more powerful than morphine, but unlike fentanyl it has no legitimate medical purpose. The DEA says the drug is manufactured overseas and shipped to the U.S. after it is purchased on the dark web. 

DEA officials in Pennsylvania are warning that the drug could be appearing in the area. “If acryl fentanyl is introduced into the population, it can have devastating effects,” David Battiste, DEA Special Agent, told CBS Local in Philadelphia. “This one has no medical use at all. At all. So it’s here illegally.”

Another DEA agent noted that because acryl fentanyl is a relatively new development, the substance is not legislated against, although it could be considered illegal under current fentanyl legislation. 

"Acryl Fentanyl is not currently a federal controlled substance as it's not scheduled, although it may be considered a fentanyl analog," said DEA Special Agent Russ Baer.

Officials in North Dakota also warned about the dangers of acryl fentanyl recently. West Fargo, North Dakota Police Interim Chief Jerry Boyer warned that overdose reversal drugs may not work if people have taken acryl fentanyl. “Narcan is not the 100% fail safe that people may think it is, it does not always work,” he said. 

Although there is much speculation that Narcan would not be able to revive someone who has overdosed on acryl fentanyl, DEA officials said it's too early to be certain about how the overdose reversal drug will work in response to acryl fentanyl. 

DEA Special Agent Patrick Trainor told CNHI News that acryl fentanyl “has shown some possibility of being resistant” to Narcan, but that there was not enough information to be 100% sure because of the newness of the drug.

Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids rose 72% between 2014 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers interviewing people who have witnessed overdoses have found that fentanyl overdoses happen very quickly. Because of that, officials are concerned that acryl fentanyl will further drive up overdose rates. 

As of March 1, China banned the manufacturing and sale of four types of synthetic fentanyl, including acryl fentanyl. "The significance of that cannot be underestimated as it relates to the impact in the U.S.," DEA agent Baer said at the time.

However, the DEA's warnings about acryl fentanyl coming just two months after the ban suggest that the move may not be enough to stem the flow of dangerous new synthetic opioids into the United States.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.