Carfentanil: Snowflake-Sized Doses Can Kill
Interview with Michael H. Lowenstein, M.D., MPH,
Anesthesia-Assisted Detoxification Expert,
Waismann Method® Medical Director
Danielle Masterson: There’s a new drug sweeping the nation, leading to overdoses at epidemic levels. It’s overwhelming ambulance crews and emergency rooms. Some medical and law enforcement officials said they believe the overdoses were largely caused by a synthetic drug called carfentanil. That’s an animal tranquilizer used on livestock and elephants. You’ve probably heard of fentanyl by now. That’s 50 times stronger than heroin. While carfentanil is as much as 100 times more potent than fentanyl, experts said an amount smaller than a snowflake could kill a person. To learn more about this scary new drug is Dr. Michael Lowenstein. He’s the medical director at the Waismann Method and a leader in the opiate dependence field. Doctor, what exactly is Carfentanil for those who aren’t aware of it or ever heard of it.
Dr. Michael Lowenstein: Carfentanil is an opioid medication such as heroin, methadone and morphine. But it’s very, very potent. It’s an analog, a synthetic analog of a synthetic opiate called fentanyl, which we’ve used in anesthesia and for chronic pain management and cancer pain management for many years. But the Carfentanil is a thousand times stronger than the fentanyl that’s used for humans, for the treatment of pain or for surgery. And it was designed to anesthetize very large animals like elephants. So it’s very, very potent and there’s no human indication for it currently.
Danielle Masterson: Wow. So where does something like this come from? You mentioned it’s synthetic, so I imagine it’s made in a lab somewhere. Are people able? Are they getting it? Where are they getting it from?
Dr. Michael Lowenstein: Well, our carfentanil was originally designed back in the 70s to use in large animals for anesthesia, as I discussed. Currently, it’s thought to be coming either through the Internet from China or possibly through Mexico, through the drug cartels.
Danielle Masterson: Wow. So in amount the size of a snowflake could be lethal. Do people know that they’re taking this?
Dr. Michael Lowenstein: It’s well, now that it’s in the news, there’s some knowledge of the fact is there. But I believe it’s being used to cut heroin because it is extremely potent and because of the potency, you could take a gram of carfentanil and cut it a thousand times and get many more doses so it can be used for more doses. But they are largely unaware. And so someone who thinks he’s using he or she or he is using a gram of heroin, which they’re accustomed to, just the smallest amount, like you said, a snowflake or two equivalent could be enough to cause overdose and death because of its enormous potency.
Danielle Masterson: Wow. So carfentanil is an animal tranquilizer, as you mentioned. It’s nicknamed elephant heroin. Are there any uses for it and is on humans?
Dr. Michael Lowenstein: No, it’s it’s currently has no human indication and it’s strictly used in veterinary medicine for large animals.
Danielle Masterson: Now, when people take this, whether they know it or not, and they’re more than likely overdose, is Narcan effective and treating fentanyl overdoses?
Dr. Michael Lowenstein: Narcan is usually the antidote used for overdoses for heroin and other opiates. The current dosages that are used for typical overdoses have not been affected by further reports of first responders. Carfentanil has a higher potency and a longer duration of action. And so they’re probably going to have to use much larger doses or possibly the opiate antagonist naltrexone, which comes in higher milligram strains and has a longer duration of action.
Danielle Masterson: Is it addicting or do users not even get to that point because they usually die before it, even being able to get addicted to it?
Dr. Michael Lowenstein: Well, the addictive part of opiates comes from largely from the euphoria that’s produced by the opiates. So the more potent the opiate, the more potent the or the increase the dopamine release, which causes euphoria. So it’s potentially much more addictive. But the problem is, you know, even with the smallest amount that can produce an overdose and death, the guess is that it’s people are going to overdose and die before it becomes an actual addiction issue.
Danielle Masterson: Carfentanil has deadly consequences for those who take it, but it can also pose a threat to emergency workers. First responders and emergency room staff are being told to wear protective gloves and masks. That’s because it’s so potent it could be dangerous to someone who simply touches or inhales it. Dr. Michael. A Lowenstein, thanks so much for shedding some light on this very dangerous drug.
Dr. Michael Lowenstein: Thank you very much.