CARFENTANIL: A NEW CHALLENGE IN THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Although not new in its inception, carfentanil has been a fairly obscure drug amongst medical professionals. It has only started to become a growing problem in the already troublesome world of opioid abuse. Recently, paramedics and doctors alike have been encountering an uptick in the use of this little-known substance, and unlike opioids such as heroin, overdose reversal medication has proved ineffectual when needed the most.
Carfentanil binds to opioid receptors with such strength that naloxone, the drug most often used bring overdose patients back to life, does not work when standard doses are used. Considering the fact that carfentanil is also 10,000 times as powerful as morphine, and that only micrograms of the substance are needed to induce overdose, an increase in the number of opioid overdoses attributed to the substance is inevitable with its growing popularity amongst substance abusers.
Disturbingly, standard naloxone doses are insufficient for the treatment of carfentanil overdose. Even more troubling may be the fact that first responders and doctors have no real way of distinguishing between which opioid may be causing the overdose. So little is known about the drug that the DEA lacks statistics regarding carfentanil use and death around the country, yet many states are hoping to get ahead of this new threat by asking for samples of the drug for testing and confirmation of cases.
At this time, health professionals have been advised to administer subsequent doses of opioid overdose reversal medication every few minutes until the patient is capable of breathing on their own. Naloxone is eventually successful in rousing patients when enough doses have been administered, but this may cause even more problems for health systems due to limited supplies of overdose reversal medication.
The DEA has already expressed warning about carfentanil just last month, showing that the issue has gained proper attention, but currently the drug poses a major threat, both to the saving of lives and the emergency medical system as a whole.
1 Maron, Dina. “Wave of Overdoses with Little-Known Drug Raises Alarm Amid Opioid Crisis.” Scientific American. October 14, 2016.
2 Kounang, Nadia. “Elephant tranquilizer to blame for at least 8 Ohio deaths.” CNN. September 7, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/06/health/carfentanil-deaths-ohio/