5 Overdoses In Minnesota Blamed On Heroin Laced With Elephant Tranquilizer

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Overdosing on carfentanil has killed five people. The drug is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. More deaths may be linked to it, according to officials.

This year, five overdose deaths were caused by a new and lethal strain of synthetic heroin in Minnesota. Another five undetermined deaths might also be linked to the drug, according to officials.

What is Carfentanil:

Carfentanil is a drug from China that is 100 times more potent than the already dangerous fentanyl, it’s a federally approved drug to immobilize large animals such as elephants for surgery, and two salt-sized specks of the opioid can cause instant death, according to a local emergency room doctor.

The victims didn’t apparently know that their heroin purchase was laced with carfentanil. The drug can’t be diluted enough for safe human consumption.

Dr. Jon Cole, an emergency room doctor and medical director of the Minnesota Poison Control System said “The drug is so new very little is known about it and the impact the drug has on humans. We don’t even know how much carfentanil is in the current heroin supply.”

Law enforcement have struggled in the past several years to prevent heroin and fentanyl overdoses. A record 144 opioid-related deaths in 2016 were recorded Hennepin County alone. It’s possible carfentanil played a role in some of the deaths, but the drug is so new that testing wouldn’t have been required.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said “A few years ago no one had heard of fentanyl, but now it is a major factor in the opioid epidemic, and today we learned that an even deadlier opioid [carfentanil] has made its way to our community.”

National efforts:

President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday his plan to create a national effort to combat the opioid crisis that will be led by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

Many police departments have trained officers to carry naloxone which is a drug administrated through the nose that can revive a person suffering a heroin overdose. If reached in time, the drug can save a carfentanil user according to Cole.

Andrew Baker, the chief medical examiner for Hennepin, Dakota and Scott counties said that the drug is extremely difficult to detect and few labs can test for it, he said.

Baker’s office notified law enforcement, hospitals and poison control centers when the cluster of carfentanil overdoses was discovered. As contact with the smallest dosage of the drug can be dangerous for first responders, he said. When the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents handle search warrants, they’re given naloxone and they keep doses near lab scientists.

Last year, the BCA did testing for more than 28,000 drug cases, a 47 percent increase from 2015. Eleven of the cases tested positive for carfentanil, and the BCA has already received a significant amount of requests for fentanyl cases this year.

Ken Solek, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Twin Cities office said that investigators are working locally and nationally to find the source of the carfentanil. It’s most likely made in China and brought in by Mexican drug cartels for distribution on the streets, but he said it could also be bought online.