You’re probably well aware of the dangers of illegal street drugs, such as the highly potent and addictive opioids – OxyContin, morphine, and fentanyl.
And now there’s a new street drug that may be more deadly than them all, a sedative so powerful it’s primarily used to sedate elephants.
“It’s 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, 100 times stronger than fentanyl,” describes Byron Klingbyle, a 59-year-old drug counselor and former addict.
“It’s not for human consumption. It’s for large animals.”
The drug is called carfentanil, a synthetic opioid so toxic that police say just 20 micrograms would be enough for fatality. For perspective, one microgram of the substance is smaller than a grain of salt. As alluded to above, carfentanil is most commonly used in zoos and by wildlife workers as a tranquilizer for elephants or other large animals.
Many overdose cases involving carfentanil had the synthetic drug mixed with other deadly street meds, namely heroin. Often, the drug is added to heroin without the drug user’s knowledge.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all to know that we got more and more bionic opioids responsible for mortality on our streets,” said Dr. Hakique Virani, medical director at Metro City Medical Clinic, an addiction treatment centre in Edmonton.
“When we describe this as a superhuman drug, it’s not to attract people to it. It’s because it’s literally what it is, where micrograms of a dosage of these opioids can kill — and have killed.”
Despite addicts understanding the dangers of such a potent synthetic opioid, it hasn’t been enough to deter their desire for a kick of carfentanil.
“There’s a demand driving this opioid crisis, and organized crime is meeting that demand with more and more toxic opioids, because they’re easier to traffic,” Virani continued.
Police are linking the drug to China, where they suspect it’s being manufactured, and from there shipped to drug movers in Mexico. It trickles into the U.S., and then into Canada.
“We’re extremely concerned about this, and it really takes an international collaboration to stop the importation of this,” said Calgary Police Service Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta.
Virani says an encompassing approach is needed, despite the difficulty of the logistics; the healthy community professionals, law enforcement, and justice system must work in cohesion to control the growing threat.
“I have yet to meet a police officer who has said they can arrest their way out of this problem, and I have yet to meet a judge who’s said that he can incarcerate his way out of this problem, and I certainly hope that health isn’t thinking [they can] ignore-and-wait their way out of this problem, because it is clear it is getting worse and worse and worse.”
Until then, there appears to be no end to the growing opioid epidemic that’s now spreading across the continent.
“[I] expect this to be much like a game of whack-a-mole, where you knock down a trafficker but something else will come up. History has taught us that the next thing that pops up will be more toxic and more frightening,” Virani said.