There’s no longer any need to engage in hyperbole regarding the United States heroin epidemic. No alarmist rhetoric can match the sickening and urgent realities of the situation. In what has become the most dominant public health issue of our time, it seems as though distributors and dealers just keep finding new ways to make heroin more dangerous and more addictive. The most recent example of this reality is the flooding of US markets with heroin that has been laced with elephant tranquilizers. In the latest and perhaps most alarming chapter of the American heroin saga, dealers are cutting the drug with a substance known as carfentanil to make their batches more potent.
Examining the Dangers of Carfentanil
Carfentanil is a sedative that has not been approved for human consumption, but is often used to sedate large animals. Just two milligrams of this drug can sedate a one-ton elephant. Most heroin users have no idea they’re taking it and the ones that do have no idea how powerful it is. Officials and prevention advocates are forecasting a nationwide spread of this form of heroin and there have already been overdoses in a number of states, including Ohio, Florida and Indiana. One of the truly alarming elements of this story is that there is little means to track carfentanil overdoses. Like fentanyl, the drug is incredibly dangerous not just to users, but anyone who comes in contact with it or inhales even a fraction. The University of Florida is currently working on new ways to identify the drug’s presence in overdoses.
An Ongoing Problem
This influx of carfentanil-laced heroin is just one more example of an excoriatingly uphill battle to curb opiate addiction in the United States. While the addition of dangerous and unpredictable chemicals to already extremely dangerous drugs is nothing new in the substance abuse landscape, the arrival of carfentanil has taken the problem to dangerous new heights. It has also created a situation in which clinicians, law enforcement and legislators, alike once again find themselves playing catch-up to a dangerous and pervasive substance abuse threat.
In a recent interview, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta said that the days of casual of experimentation with drugs are over. The pathology of overdoses linked to these tragically common batches of drugs would indicate that this declaration is long overdue.