The elephant tranquilizer carfentanil is continuing to show up in street drugs, prompting the DEA to issue a nationwide public warning Thursday.
Heroin laced with the dangerous drug, a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, has led to an explosion in overdose cases across the United States, according to The Washington Post.
Over a six-day period in late August, 174 people across Cincinnati were hospitalized for overdosing on heroin that was likely cut with carfentanil, a number the Hamilton County health commissioner called "unprecedented," stated the Post. Phillip Watkins, 31, and Jeannetta Crawford, 26, were charged by a federal grand jury Wednesday with distributing heroin cut with fentanyl and carfentanil.
In July, a Franklin County, Ohio, grand jury indicted Rayshon Alexander, 36, on 21 counts, including murder, aggravated murder, and drug trafficking in connection with selling the elephant tranquilizer as heroin.
In Winnipeg, Canada, earlier this month, police raided a hotel room and nabbed 1,477 blotter tabs that they suspected contained carfentanil. A 37-year-old Winnipeg man was charged with numerous offenses connected with the drug.
"Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities," Chuck Rosenberg, the Drug Enforcement Administration's acting administrator, said in a statement. "We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin.
"It is crazy dangerous. Synthetics such as fentanyl and carfentanil can kill you. I hope our first responders — and the public — will read and heed our health and safety warning. These men and women have remarkably difficult jobs and we need them to be well and healthy," Rosenberg continued.
Carfentanil is a Schedule II substance normally used as a tranquilizing agent for elephants and other large mammals, according to the DEA. Carfentanil is a fentanyl-related substance that is not approved for use in humans.
The DEA issued a nationwide alert on fentanyl in March 2015, crediting the chemical for the overdose epidemic in the United States "linked to an unprecedented outbreak of thousands of overdoses and deaths," according to the DEA statement.
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