Carfentanil or carfentanyl (Wildnil) is a dangerously potent analog of the synthetic opioid widely known as fentanyl. The deadly fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, but carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Carfentanil is a tranquilizer used by veterinarians for sedating elephants, horses, and other large animals.
A tiny amount of this drug can be considered a lethal dose to a human being. This is why first responders use extreme caution when facing potential exposure to carfentanil. Even multiple doses of the antidote Narcan (naloxone) may not be effective in reviving someone who has ingested, or even having only been exposed to, this lethal drug.
How to Recognize Carfentanil
We have heard a lot about fentanyl in the last few years, having been implicated in thousands of opioid overdose deaths. However, not much is known about carfentanil, a powerful sedative that has been used as an additive in heroin and cocaine to increase dealer profitability. When carfentanil is mixed with heroin it is referred to as “gray death” due to its concrete-like appearance.
Carfentanil, or 4-carbomethosfentanyl (brand name Widnil), was developed in China in 1974, and carries the DEA Schedule II classification. Its only legitimate use is as a veterinary sedative for very large animals.
Carfentanil is a white powdery substance that impacts the central nervous system, dramatically slowing the respiratory and nervous systems. It is also available in tablet form. Just 2mg of this deadly drug, about the weight of 35 grains of salt, can cause death in humans, who usually are not aware that they have ingested it.
As an analog of fentanyl, the chemical composition of carfentanil deviates slightly from fentanyl, so it has many of the same effects, such as itching, drowsiness, mental confusion, dizziness, and nausea. Because of its extreme potency, even coming into physical contact with the drug can cause these effects.
Dangers of Carfentanil
Like all opioid misuse, someone who ingests carfentanil is vulnerable to overdose. Carfentanil overdose, however, can happen so swiftly that the individual may progress immediately from passing out to respiratory failure, never experiencing the other signs of overdose.
Signs of carfentanil overdose:
- Extreme sleepiness
- Difficulty breathing
- Constricted pupils
- Difficulty walking; loss of coordination
- Respiratory distress
- Heart failure
A carfentanil overdose is considered a medical emergency. To save someone who has experienced a carfentanil overdose, first responders must administer multiple doses of Narcan.
Carfentanil addiction is rare, but dependency can evolve in someone with an opioid use disorder. Because the system is already accustomed to the effects of opioids, an individual may be able to consume small amounts of carfentanil. The effects are similar to other opioids, such as experiencing deep relaxation and drowsiness.
Over time, as tolerance to the substance builds, the individual may take higher doses of the drug, which increases the risk for overdose. They will develop intense cravings for carfentanil and may develop both psychological and physical dependence on it.
Opioid Use Disorder Treatment
Someone who has developed a carfentanil addiction or dependence will require a comprehensive treatment strategy to safely overcome the disorder. A residential treatment program offers the appropriate level of care for individuals with an opioid use disorder.
Programming will include a multi-pronged approach that blends evidence-based psychotherapies, psychosocial education, medication supported recovery (MSR™), 12 Step program engagement, and holistic methods.
Due to its potency, carfentanil should be avoided at all costs. If, however, a carfentanil addiction has developed, just as with other opioid use disorders it is treatable using this multidisciplinary approach.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle – “everything for recovery” – reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.