What Is Carfentanil? – Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid comparable in effect to heroin, but it is, incredibly, up to 5,000 times more powerful. It is an analog of fentanyl, another potent painkiller used to treat severe pain and in hospital settings for general anesthesia.
Unlike fentanyl, however, carfentanil is not approved for use in humans. In fact, it is only commercially used to sedate very large animals, such as elephants.
Carfentanil was developed in the 1970s by scientists at Janssen Pharmaceuticals. It is currently classified as a Schedule II substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Carfentanil is so powerful that those who handle it are required to wear protective clothing to avoid incidental skin contact. Indeed, human exposure to even a minuscule amount can easily prove fatal. Carfentanil has been related to hundreds of overdose deaths in the U.S. in recent years, due to dealers combining it with heroin and other drugs.
Of note, it is possible for a person to build a tolerance to opioids high enough to sustain the use of carfentanil. However, most who ingest it are unaware that this lethal substance has been mixed with or substituted for their drug of choice. The presence of carfentanil in illicit street drugs such as heroin and cocaine is an increasingly worrisome problem.
Side Effects of Carfentanil
Due to its potency, the most common and tragic effect of carfentanil use is death. Those who use carfentanil and do not die will encounter effects similar to those associated with heroin or fentanyl.
Besides a brief euphoric high and sedation, side effects of carfentanil may include the following:
- Runny nose
- Dry mouth
- Slurred speech
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal cramps
- Inability to concentrate
- Impaired memory
- Loss of consciousness
- Depressed respiration
Carfentanil has a high potential for addiction when used. Addiction is hallmarked by tolerance and dependence, two conditions that develop over time with abuse.
Tolerance occurs because, with regular abuse, the brain stops responding as intensely at it once did—repeated exposure = diminished response. As a result of this reduction in effects, users are forced to consume an increasing amount of the substance to achieve the desired experience. For this reason, those who develop a high tolerance are also at a much greater risk of overdose and death.
Dependence occurs when the brain becomes used to the presence of a drug. When this happens, it can no longer function normally without it, and highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms onset when the person tries to quit. These withdrawal symptoms are not usually deadly, but in the most extreme cases, they can be.
Addiction also leads to many adverse behaviors that reflect its true nature. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite the incurrence of adverse consequences
- Stealing or borrowing money to support one’s habit
- Neglect of important obligations associated with work, school, or family
- Engaging in drug-related criminal activity and encountering legal issues as a result
- Financial problems
- Family conflict and interpersonal problems
A carfentanil overdose can only be effectively treated with Narcan (naloxone). This remedy is an opioid antagonist that reverses the drug’s effects and halts life-threatening central nervous system depression.
Signs of an overdose may include the following:
- Loss of consciousness
- Shallow or stopped breathing
- Slow, erratic, or absent pulse
- Pale or bluish skin and nails
- Snore-like gurgling noise
- Clammy or cold skin
Treatment for Carfentanil Addiction
Midwood Addiction Treatment offers professional, evidence-based services for substance use disorders. Treatment for carfentanil abuse usually begins with a medically-supervised detox. During this process, the patient is monitored for several days to ensure his or her safety. Medications, such as Suboxone, can be administered to minimize withdrawal symptoms and ease drug cravings.
After completing detox, patients are encouraged to enroll in a comprehensive treatment program. During this time, they will receive corrective interventions, such as psychotherapy and counseling. Treatment also usually includes 12-step group meetings and holistic practices, such as yoga and meditation.
Many individuals begin treatment in our partial hospitalization program, then proceed to intensive outpatient treatment. Some reside at their private residence, and others choose to live at sober living homes while they visit our center several times a week to continue recovery.
After discharge, aftercare coordinators help the patient find other resources, such as counselors, psychiatrists, and group support programs.