A synthetic opioid so potent it can bring down an elephant is partly responsible for the deaths of a Centerville airline pilot and his wife, according to autopsies released Tuesday.
What’s unclear is whether Brian and Courtney Halye knowingly took carfentanil or if the drug hundreds of times more potent than heroin was laced into the cocaine also detected in their bodies.
It is known that dealers are increasingly putting fentanyl and carfentanil — both extraordinarily powerful opioids often used to boost the potency of street heroin — into other drugs, including cocaine, according to officials.
It’s a frightening prospect to street drug users, considering a few granules of carfentanil no larger than table salt can kill a person.
What is carfentanil?
Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Its primary legitimate purpose is a tranquilizer for large animals like rhinos and elephants. Carfentanil has been linked to a significant number of overdose deaths nationwide, including fatalities in Montgomery County.
Last September, the DEA issued a nationwide warning about the health and safety risks of carfentanil that can also resemble powdered cocaine.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office attributed 19 deaths in January to cocaine mixed with more powerful opioids.
"If someone is using cocaine, they might not be expecting it to be mixed with fentanyl," U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon told Cleveland.com.
Fentanyl and carfentanil also show up in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription pain medications and sedatives such as OxyContin and Xanax, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“If you’re choosing to use drugs right now, you really are taking a gamble,” Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco told WCPO-TV earlier this month.
“We’ve seen a 30 percent increase in cocaine," Sammarco she told the Cincinnati station. "I know that that’s also been mixed with fentanyl and different fentanyl combinations.”
The region is also seeing a new drug called “gray death,” which resembles cement and also often contains heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.
“Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities,” DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in a warning late last year. “It is crazy dangerous.”
There have been unfounded or unconfirmed recent reports of fentanyl and carfentanil-laced marijuana showing up on the streets of northeast Ohio and Canada.
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