Heroin's deadlier cousin: A few grains of carfentanil can kill

One of the strongest opioids in the world is showing up in Oregon. 

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One of the strongest opioids in the world is showing up in Oregon. 

Carfentanil is typically used by veterinarians to sedate elephants. 

Two people have overdosed on the ultra-potent opioid in the past two months, according the Oregon Poison Center. Both users were resuscitated. 

Carfentanil is often mixed with or disguised as heroin.

“It doesn’t take much. The first time most people use it is the last time they use it,” said Dr. Zane Horowitz, medical director at the Oregon Poison Center.

Carfentanil is the latest addition in an arms race for drug dealers looking to create the next big high. Police are already struggling to deal with fentanyl, an extremely powerful painkiller.

Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. Carfentanil is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. 

“A couple grains of this powder when snorted or injected can make you stop breathing, literally instantaneously,” said Dr. Horowitz.

Surge of fentanyl overdoses  

Intended for a hospital setting to treat pain, fentanyl is increasingly being produced on the black market. It’s more potent than heroin, cheaper to make and much more deadly.

In March 2015, the DEA issued a nationwide alert on fentanyl.

Fentanyl has been blamed for a surge of overdose deaths across the country including the musician Prince in April. 

Another victim was Evan Poitra of Grand Forks, North Dakota. The 19-year-old was found dead in his bedroom in July 2014 as a result of a fentanyl overdose.  

“It is the very worst thing that a parent can go through,” Evan’s mother, Jackie Poitra, told NBC News. “You are not supposed to bury your children.”

An Oregon man is serving a life sentence for providing the fentanyl linked to Evan’s death. Prosecutors say Brandon Hubbard of Portland was part of a large-scale drug ring that imported fentanyl from China and Canada, then shipped it through U.S. mail.

“The world seems to have gotten a lot smaller through technology,” said Chris Gibson, director of the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). “These larger-scale drug trafficking organizations may not be as big as a cartel but they are definitely as dangerous.”

So far this year, fentanyl has been linked to 15 overdoses in Oregon, according to the poison center. That number is just a fraction of the fentanyl overdoses recorded elsewhere around the country.

“It’s just one of those phenomena where it hasn’t gotten here at the levels that it has on the East Coast,” said Gibson.

“Trafficking patterns vary by region and often times the West Coast will not see emerging trends for a period of time after they have appeared elsewhere,” explained Jodie Underwood, spokesperson for the Seattle office of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Police fear it is just a matter of time.

Published August 12, 2016.

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