PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The most powerful opioid commercially available has made its way to the streets of western Pennsylvania.
Carfentanil is so powerful that even a tiny bit can be deadly.
It is the most dangerous addition to the opioid epidemic.
“This deadly mixture could be mixed into their heroin unknowingly at any time,” DEA Special Agent in Charge David Battiste said.
Carfentanil is so powerful that a microgram can be lethal.
“Even a drop of the medication could cause you to stop breathing and die,” Dr. Alecia Hahn, of the Pittsburgh Zoo, said.
It’s lawfully used at places like the Pittsburgh Zoo.
“We don’t use it very often. The animals that we would use it on would be an elephant, a rhinoceros, a large hoofstock animal. Say we had moose here or something really large like that,” Dr. Hahn said.
The idea of using it as a cutting agent for heroin is horrifying to Dr. Hahn.
“It terrifies me, honestly. I take this very seriously. I respect this drug a lot. We use it when we need it and it is helpful for those situations, but I would never use it in a way outside of that because I know that death is a real concern,” she said.
Half a milliliter of carfentanil is all it would take to knock down an elephant.
In 2015, 852 people died from opioid overdoses in western Pennsylvania.
“If you had a picture of all those folks, they look like me, they look like you. They look like our children. They look like our parents. It’s everyone’s problem,” Battiste said.
The powerful painkiller fentanyl made national headlines with pop star Prince’s accidental overdose.
For comparison, fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful.
The carfentanil found in western Pennsylvania was tested at the Allegheny County Crime Lab.
DEA agents are not releasing the seizure location so as to not jeopardize their investigation, or entice addicts to seek it out.
“They may look at a place where 10 people overdosed in XYZ county and they want to know the stamp that those folks use because they feel they couldn’t handle it,” Battiste said.
Law enforcement and first responders are being warned to be armed with naloxone and to collect it only under Hazmat conditions.
Agents hope to stop it from spreading before it claims any lives.