Raise awareness of carfentanil, before too late

There’s a powerful new villain on the drug scene, and talking about it before it claims people here — warning how deadly it is — is preferable to waiting until coroners and other law enforcement officials are counting its victims.

Last month, coroners of Blair and Cambria counties announced troubling increases in the number of drug-overdose deaths in 2016.

There were at least 94 fatal overdoses in Cambria, up from 58 in 2015, and 45 in Blair, up from 38 the previous year.

But if the drug in question — carfentanil — reaches the two counties, the death toll for which it could be responsible might dwarf 2016’s terrible toll at the hands of drugs such as heroin.

While there apparently haven’t been reports about the new synthetic narcotic making its way to central Pennsylvania, it has come close to this state’s western border, and there’s no guarantee that it hasn’t crossed that border.

Carfentanil has been connected to at least 700 deaths in states that include Ohio, Michigan and Florida since it first emerged in Ohio in mid-2016, according to the Wall Street Journal.

An article in the newspaper’s Feb. 18-19 edition told about self-described opioid users having said they never would intentionally take carfentanil — one of them even calling it a “murder weapon,” because of its power.

The drug fentanyl is blamed for worsening the opioid crisis but, according to the Journal, carfentanil is up to 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Meanwhile, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration says carfentanil, which in its legal version is for sedating large animals such as elephants, is about 10,000 times as powerful as morphine.

“Even a minute trace of carfentanil can be deadly,” the Journal said. “Because it can be absorbed through the skin or accidentally inhaled as an airborne powder, law-enforcement personnel face significant peril in investigating scenes where it may be present.”

Still, carfentanil’s effects are reversible, if help arrives quickly. However, an “especially large amount” of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone is required to treat the user successfully.

Because carfentanil often is mixed with heroin and other opioids, and because of its power, a small amount of it can be converted into a large amount of what the Journal described as “retail product,” ensuring substantial profit for the seller.

There’s no room for conscience in such a scenario.

This country’s drug officials have traced carfentanil to China and, amid pressure from U.S. officials, including in January, China supposedly has cracked down on the drug’s production, adding it to a list of controlled substances, effective March 1.

But fentanyl, long designated a controlled substance in China, continues to reach the United States in large quantities partly because of production by Mexican cartels.

Is carfentanil destined to become a major product emanating from those cartels also?

The DEA says that as of early November, that agency had received notice of more than 400 drug seizures containing “crazy dangerous” carfentanil. Those seizures were in 10 states, mainly in the Midwest, Appalachia and the South.

A nationwide warning to police and the public about it reportedly was issued by the DEA in September, but that warning didn’t evoke any noticeable attention here.

Yet this new villain demands immediate attention on the public “radar screen” — plenty of it.

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