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Elephant Sedative Carfentanyl is the Latest and Deadliest Heroin Additive

Elephant Sedative Carfentanyl is the Latest and Deadliest Heroin Additive

One of the biggest risks associated with illegal drug use is that there’s no way to know for sure exactly what’s in the substance you’re consuming. Many drug cartels dilute their products with nearly indistinguishable substances, for example mixing powdered milk into a batch of heroin, in order to increase the overall quantity of the drug, sell more, and make more money.

One uncommon heroin additive that’s been making headlines recently is carfentanyl. An analogue of the more commonly known opioid analgesic fentanyl, carfentanyl was first produced in 1974 and intended for sedating large animals like elephants and moose. In August of this year, a Cleveland, Ohio medical examiner found evidence that the drug was contributing to the state’s high rate of fatal opioid overdoses and released a public health warning to that effect.

It can be impossible without testing equipment to tell if an additive like carfentanyl has been added to a small supply of heroin. Carfentanyl is odorless and colorless, making it effectively invisible and undetectable. There really is no way for an average user to test the purity of the substances s/he purchases.

Even worse than not being able to tell if carfentanyl has been folded into a batch of heroin, what makes carfentanyl really scary is its strength. Commonly described as 10,000 times stronger than morphine, 2,500 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times the strength of fentanyl, carfentanyl is one of the most powerful commercial opioids in use today. This outsized potency is the perfect level for quickly sedating a large animal but can prove lethal to humans if as little as one drop is absorbed through the skin.

It gets worse. People with loved ones who currently use heroin have been gaining access to naloxone, an opioid-reversal drug that can keep someone alive even after ingesting a lethal dose of heroin. Sold commercially as Narcan, a nalaxone overdose reversal kit usually comes with a few doses and these days can cost as much as forty dollars.  While carfentanyl is a synthetic opioid, because of its extreme toxicity, just one or two doses of naloxone are not enough to reverse an overdose, creating confusion among loved ones trying to administer the life-saving drug and opening the door to even more unnecessary suffering and death.

There is one bright spot. Carfentanyl is not a common additive to street-level heroin and we are still seeing only a few areas where the drug has popped up.

Even without any additives, heroin is capable of ruining lives and tearing apart families. But where carfentanyl has been introduced into an area’s supply of heroin, as we’ve seen in states like Ohio, the trail of death and destruction it leaves in its wake is unmistakable.

There are a million reasons to quit using heroin, including for family, loved ones, health, safety and happiness. The possibility of ingesting a drug capable of taking down an elephant should not have to be among those reasons, but it is. Get help now if you are using heroin.

Elephant Sedative Carfentanyl is the Latest and Deadliest Heroin Additive

Richard Taite

Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

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APA Reference
Taite, R. (2016). Elephant Sedative Carfentanyl is the Latest and Deadliest Heroin Additive. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Dec 2016
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