Carfentanil is a synthetic, non-medical opioid that typically comes in the form of a white or tan powder. Dale Woolery, associate director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy, says carfentanil is often referred to as an elephant tranquilizer.
Woolery says, “It’s a cousin to pharmaceutical fentanyl but it’s highly potent, much more potent than fentanyl, about 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, the pharmaceutical variety, and for another comparison, about 10,000 times more potent than morphine.”
Carfentanil is being mixed with heroin to increase the drug’s potency. A report from the Dubuque Drug Task Force warns carfentanil is starting to hit the streets in the tri-state region of northeast Iowa, northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin.
Woolery says, “Since all of this stuff, these synthetic opioids, are much more powerful, it makes the heroin with that mix even more potent, more dangerous, and tragically, more deadly.” While carfentanil and fentanyl are mixed with heroin to give the drug more kick, the combination also dramatically increases the risk for users.
“We do want Iowans to be on alert and we want them to know that it’s the ultimate game, if you want to call it that, of Russian roulette,” Woolery says. “If you take heroin that has some of these even more potent synthetic opioids mixed with it, you’re really taking a huge chance because it can lead to overdose and ultimately, overdose death.” Carfentanil is responsible for overdose deaths elsewhere in the U.S. but it’s not believed to have killed anyone in Iowa — as yet.