Smaller than a Snowflake

Maureen MurdockAddiction5 Comments

Drug RehabilitationA synthetic drug called carfentanil, in an amount smaller than a snowflake, is killing people.

More than 200 people in the Cincinnati area have overdosed on the drug in the last three weeks leaving 3 people dead. Similar overdoses have occurred in Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and the Gulf coast of Florida overwhelming ambulance crews and emergency rooms.

Carfentanil is an animal tranquilizer used on elephants and livestock with no practical use for humans. It is being manufactured in China or Mexico and making its way to the Midwest in heroin shipments. Police officers around Cincinnati are so concerned about the potency of carfentanil that they carry overdose-reversing naloxone sprays for themselves in case they accidentally inhale or touch the tiniest flake of the powerful opioid.

Ambulance crews and police have responded to 20-30 overdose calls each day and sometimes had to give people two, three, or five doses of naloxone spray to revive them. It usually only takes one quick spray of naloxone to block a person’s opiate receptors and immediately jolt them out of a lethal overdose. Apparently, the drug is so cheap that addicts say they can walk through a housing project and get four free samples from dealers. Like most of the country, officials along the Ohio-Kentucky border have been straining to cope with the epidemic of opioid use and get people into treatment.

As I have written before, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged doctors to stop prescribing opioids for patients suffering from chronic pain, noting the risks of taking such drugs. Unfortunately, these same patients often turn to heroin, which is cheaper, and unknowingly end up with fentanil or carfentanil instead. The Cincinnati Enquirer even has a heroin beat reporter to inform people of the dangers of these drugs.

Learn more about opiate/opioid addiction at New CDC Recommendations On Opioid Prescriptions Send Stern Message To Physicians Nationwide

5 Comments on “Smaller than a Snowflake”

  1. Thanks for your well-thought out response, Brendan. I agree with you that more of us have to be trained in the use of Narcon to avoid needless fatal overdoses. Of course, just as importantly, we have to find the underlying cause of the opioid epidemic.

  2. In San Francisco a pilot program called the “Dope Project” was initiated by the Department of Public Health, in 2006, allowing citizens in high risk communities, already involved in harm reduction such as needle exchange, to be trained to legally carry Narcan (naloxone): administer, and apply basic CPR. The training was only 12 hours. Initially the police department was unaware/uneducated concerning the legality of anyone cleared and selected to carry monoject systems (now nasal), making it somewhat risky to actually save a strangers life. The fire department quickly rectified that, making it possible for a even a peer involved in a questionable situation to be saved, no questions asked, so long as there was a 911 response. This program has been successfully implemented in other counties since and countless deadly overdoses have been averted. Now that the issue of opioid use has been labelled an epidemic due to the shifting attention from inner cities to the white middle class; more conservative states, counties, and cities might benefit from these models of peer training in harm reduction. By the time a co-user, enabler, dealer, etc. gets the nerve to call 911, endangering there own freedom, it is most often too late.
    As for the cutting of various forms of morphine with barbituates, veterinary drugs, and other easily obtained pharmaceuticals (via internet), the issue is no longer a simple matter of “heroin” import, but one of homegrown amateur chemists without knowledge or conscience with regard to deadly healthcare consequence. It is a whole new problem because it doesn’t necessarily involve boarders, the DEA and other large law enforcement agencies. The policy and politics need to shift toward localized cooperation between the law and community education, outreach services and creative models of interdiction without fear of legal reprisal.

  3. Have been reading about this–a tragedy on all levels. At least more and more is being written about it–as in your blog. Keep up the good work, Maureen.

  4. This opioid epidemic is getting worse every time I read something about it, it seems. It is really awful that police officers have to worry about their own health being at risk by random contact with this new drug while trying to save someone from an overdose. Moreover, to think that this is happening in a conservative city like Cincinnati is frightening. Solutions? hard to imagine what would work for this.

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