Carfentanil is a synthetic fentanyl analog, which means that it’s chemically similar to the potent opioid fentanyl. It’s used as a tranquilizer in large mammals like elephants and rhinos. It’s not intended to be used as a medication in humans. The drug is so potent that a very small dose could lead to a fatal overdose in the average human. Carfentanil is estimated to be about 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. Despite its potency, it has been found in illicit drug supplies with increasing frequency in the past few years.

It’s not commonly abused intentionally. It’s more likely to lead to a deadly overdose than to dependence or addiction. However, people with opioid addictions may encounter powerful opioids like fentanyl in illicit supplies of heroin. Dealers may mix powerful synthetic opioids into heroin to increase its potency, mask diluted heroin, or give the illusion of high purity heroin. More than 28,000 overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, in 2017.

Though it’s unlikely that you’d specifically become addicted to carfentanil. If you encountered it and survived, you may be at risk for a severe substance use disorder.

What Are the Signs of Carfentanil Addiction?

Carfentanil addiction is rare, but opioid use disorders are common. If someone is regularly using carfentanil, it’s likely they have a severe opioid use problem, with a high tolerance. Opioids will cause some signs and symptoms during acute use. When opioid receptors are activated, they will produce pain relief and relaxation. Higher doses may include sedation, euphoria, and loss of consciousness. Opioid abuse can lead to uncomfortable side effects like constipation and itchiness.

Carfentanil addiction might start to affect different parts of your life, leading to signs and symptoms outside of its acute effects. Signs of addiction might include:

  • Changes in weight
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hiding drugs
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Lying about drug use
  • Flu-like withdrawal
  • Trying and failing to stop using

How is Carfentanil Addiction Treated?

Carfentanil addiction can be treated with a multidisciplinary approach that addresses physical, psychological, and social needs. When you enter an addiction treatment program, you’ll go through an assessment process that’s designed to help determine the right level of care for your needs. Since addiction is a complex disease, treatment is tailored to individual needs.

How Dangerous is Carfentanil?

Carfentanil is among the most dangerous illicit drugs you might encounter. Its potency means that even tiny doses can lead to a deadly overdose. It’s known by its street name, grey death, which is heroin that’s been mixed with synthetic opioids. Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the body, which can cause depressant effects in the nervous system when activated. High doses can start to slow down vital functions of the autonomic nervous system like breathing and heart rate. Someone who’s going through an opioid overdose may experience a slowed heart rate, a loss of consciousness, and respiratory depression. Deadly opioid overdoses are typically caused by oxygen deprivation, which can lead to coma or death.

Carfentanil overdoses can be treated with opioid antagonists like naloxone, but extremely potent opioids may need multiple doses and continued medical care. It’s critical to seek emergency medical services if you or someone else takes a high dose of an opioid.

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