If you ingest carfentanil, you will likely not get the opportunity to become addicted. It is likelier that you will die. Carfentanil is used to sedate large animals and is not fit for humans. Trace amounts like a few grains of salt can be enough to kill you upon first use.
Carfentanil is so lethal that a 10 milligram (mg) dose, about the fraction of the weight of a paper clip, is enough to kill a 15,000-pound elephant, take down a bull moose, and take out 500 people.
It was even used as a weapon of war by Russian troops who aerosolized carfentanil into a gas and used it on rebels who held 800 people hostage at a Moscow theater in 2002. The deployment of this carfentanil-laced product left piles of bodies in its wake, rebels and citizens alike.
As this Washington Post article states, there is no known safe dosage of carfentanil, which is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. What’s more, this synthetic opioid is being added to cocaine and heroin, and people are ingesting it unknowingly, going into overdose, and dying as a result.
With carfentanil, death is virtually certain. Addiction, not so much.
Carfentanil was developed in 1974 by a team of chemists at Janssen Pharmaceutica, a Belgium-based pharmaceutical company.
Starting in 1986, it was marketed under the brand name WildNil and included in tranquilizer darts to sedate elephants, buffalo, moose, and other large animals. Carfentanil is colorless and odorless. It is available in tablet, powder, patch, and blotter paper forms, and it also comes as a spray.
As an opioid agonist, carfentanil rapidly binds to certain opioid receptors in the brain and body. Other opioids like heroin and oxycodone block pain signals from reaching the brain and stimulate a flood of dopamine, which causes users to feel an intense rush of euphoria. However, carfentanil is so powerful and overwhelming to the human body that once ingested; people will not experience any euphoric sensations. Chances are, their neural system will get overloaded, and they immediately go into overdose and die.
Again, it is unlikely that people will develop an addiction to carfentanil. Death via overdose is the likelier outcome. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that exposure to carfentanil will likely lead to the following, which are considered symptoms of overdose:
The long-term effects of carfentanil in humans are not known because most people who take it die soon after.
People lucky enough to live after being exposed to carfentanil, due to a minuscule amount or heavily diluted sample, will exhibit the classic signs of opioid addiction such as:
If you or a loved one is using carfentanil or at risk for doing so, professional treatment is vital.
Due to the profound damage that carfentanil can inflict, professional treatment at the most comprehensive level will likely be necessary. Treatment can include hospitalization due to the profound physical and psychological damage that carfentanil can cause.
Medical detox is necessary and life-saving. A medical team will oversee your process and gradually remove the carfentanil and other toxins from your body while treating your withdrawal symptoms.
Physicians may use approved medications to treat your withdrawal through a program known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The medications that may be used, include:
After detox, you will likely be recommended for residential treatment, which offers comprehensive therapy and care on a full-time basis. As the name suggests, this program will allow you to reside at the treatment facility, which is the optimal environment for recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends no less than a 90-day stay in a residential facility to maximize your chances at recovery.
Once your residential program is completed, you could opt for part-time care through an outpatient program. With outpatient, you will still receive treatment, but you will be allowed to live independently.
Addiction is a lifelong condition that requires support. Once your treatment is completed, you can continue to get that support through a 12-step or SMART Recovery® program. Both programs offer supportive recovery communities that help you avoid relapse and achieve sustained recovery.
Carfentanil, a fentanyl analog, is the most potent commercially available opioid in existence.
It is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine. For comparison’s sake, heroin is about two to five times stronger than morphine.
This synthetic opioid is so powerful that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning to police officers and public safety officials about carfentanil exposure.
“The presence of carfentanil poses a significant threat to first responders and law enforcement personnel who may come in contact with this substance. In any situation where any fentanyl-related substance, such as carfentanil, might be present, law enforcement should carefully follow safety protocols to avoid accidental exposure,” states the warning.
With opioids like heroin, it can typically take one or two naloxone injections to reverse an overdose. With carfentanil overdose, it may take numerous doses.
Carfentanil: A Dangerous New Factor in the U.S. Opioid Crisis [PDF File]. (n.d.). Washington, DC: The United States Department of Justice. from https://www.justice.gov/usao-edky/file/898991/download
CARFENTANIL: Critical Review Report[PDF File]. (2017, November). World Health Organization. from https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/Critical_Review_Carfentanil.pdf
Hawkins, D. (2016, August 12). A new front in the opioid war: Elephant tranquilizer. from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/08/12/a-new-front-in-the-opioid-war-elephant-tranquilizer/?utm_term=.8ff30a68bc0c
Keating, D., & Granados, S. (n.d.). Analysis | See how deadly street opioids like 'elephant tranquilizer' have become. from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/health/opioids-scale/?utm_term=.20d0bd5d7bf8
Little, B. (2018, May 25). How Opioids Were Used as Weapons During the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis. from https://www.history.com/news/opioid-chemical-weapons-moscow-theater-hostage-crisis
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). How long does drug addiction treatment usually last? from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment
National Safety Council. (n.d.). For the First Time, We're More Likely to Die From Accidental Opioid Overdose Than Motor Vehicle Crash. from https://www.nsc.org/in-the-newsroom/for-the-first-time-were-more-likely-to-die-from-accidental-opioid-overdose-than-motor-vehicle-crash
O'Donnell, J., Ph.D., Gladden, M., Ph.D., Mattson, C. L., Ph.D., & Kariisa, M., Ph.D. (n.d.). Notes from the Field: Overdose Deaths with Carfentanil and Other Fentanyl Analogs Detected – 10 States, July 2016–June 2017 | MMWR. from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6727a4.htm