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US Government Concerned with Carfentanil as a Chemical Weapon

Opioids and opiates, specifically heroin and fentanyl, have been making regular and continuous news appearances. Overdoses and deaths do not go unreported. Heroin laced with fentanyl carries the spotlight, for the most part. However, hyper-potent fentanyl analogs are rapidly becoming the center of attention.

In June, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) intercepted a 1KG package of carfentanil headed towards Alberta. The carfentanil was shipped in containers that would originally have held printer ink. “Upon inspecting the parcel, weighing just over one kilogram, officers noted an unknown, white substance. That substance was sent to the CBSA lab for analysis and it was tested positive for carfentanil,” said Chief Ana Maria Coutu from the CBSA.


Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested the recipient shortly afterwards. Following the arrest, the agencies held a press conference detailing the dangers of the drug and related compounds. “Now we’re seeing a lot more analogs that are extremely more toxic, carfentanil being, as was mentioned, a hundred times more toxic than Fentanyl itself,” said Calgary Police A/Insp. Martin Schiavetta.

Law enforcement agencies still considered carfentanil to be a pseudo-recreational drug, at this time. Many fentanyl-analog related deaths were purely accidental; individuals believed only heroin was being ingested. However, intentional usage was also on the table. News headlines quickly shifted from the intentional use drug to the overdoses on heroin laced with “synthetic fentanyl.” The DEA issued a warning regarding the dangers of fentanyl-laced substances after a recent drug bust. A probationer was caught pressing fake oxycodone pills with a fentanyl analog. The specific analog was not announced in that situation.

However, after the discovery, officers in the vicinity were rushed to the hospital and hazmat teams arrived. The area was evacuated and sanitized.

All synthetic opioids are potent, but few are potent enough that accidental inhalation would be an issue. Carfentanil, along with several fentanyl analogs of similar potency, fit the bill. The Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis portrays this adequately.

opioid epidemic.PNG

A distinction needs to be made for the clarification of this article. The US is reportedly in “the opioid epidemic.” Various channels have used the term “synthetic opioid” since the very moment carfentanil hit the news. “Synthetic fentanyl” is another popular one.

Synthetic fentanyl redundant and potentially confusing. All opioids, by definition, are synthetic. In contrast, all opiates are biologically occurring. Opioid is a blanket term for substances that bind to the opioid receptors. Although using synthetic opioid is not inaccurate, using “synthetic fentanyl” is completely wrong.

The non-synthetic opioids are considered opiates and majorly exist in nature. Semi-synthetic opioids are substances based on the naturally occurring the opiates. Fully synthetic opioids are relevant drugs in this scenario.

Darknet markets introduced many users to the recently banned furanyl fentanyl. That was a synthetic opioid. For the most part, all synthetic opioids are analogs of fentanyl. Technically, some are not analogs but the distinction is not important. Sufentanil is one of many such analogs. Carfentanil is another fentanyl analog. The drug’s status as a classical narcotic is changing, according to several news reports.

There is no doubt that carfentanil is a cheap method of stretching a product. Pressing oxycodone pills with an “equipotent” dose of carfentanil is more cost effective than reselling the pills. The same goes for heroin. Producing heroin from opium or poppy pods is not a difficult task. However many dealers do not have access to sufficient quantities of opium.

So, for deepweb vendors and street dealers, the carfentanil status is no different than that of any other cutting agent.

Government and military officials hold different opinions.

“Agents like carfentanil could be used in lethal doses that would make them comparable to traditional nerve agents, raising concerns that they could be used as chemical weapons,” a State Department said. He continued “the State Department has raised this issue with senior Chinese leaders.”

China has been noted as the largest exporter of fentanyl analogs, including carfentanil. The ability to easily obtain carfentanil from China concerns the US.

Andrew Weber, former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs said “It’s a weapon. Companies shouldn’t be just sending it to anybody.” He continues “countries that we are concerned about were interested in using it for offensive purposes. We are also concerned that groups like ISIS could order it commercially.”

According to Russell Baer, a DEA special agent in Washington, the DEA has “shared intelligence and scientific data” with Chinese authorities about controlling carfentanil. “I know China is looking at it very closely,” he said. “That’s been the subject of discussion in some of these high-level meetings.”

Dennis Wichern of the DEA’s Chicago Field Division spoke about investigations in China. “They recognize they have a problem with the synthetic drug explosion, as I call it,” he said. “The Chinese are all aboard. They’ve outlawed it. We’re working with them,” Wichern said. “We have agents on the ground every day in Beijing and Hong Kong working with the Chinese to stop this.”

“It [carfentanil] comes from our postal system and their [China’s] postal system into the United States. Unbelievable — the poison is coming in the mail to our communities,” said Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, in a recent floor speech.

Canadian officials voiced concern as well. “Cocaine or heroin, we know what the purpose is,” said Allan Lai, an officer-in-charge at RCMP. “With respect to carfentanil, we don’t know why a substance of that potency is coming into our country.”

Carfentanil has been banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The increased availability of the substance has changed the situation, to some degree. With a weapon so readily available, new defensive measures would need to be implemented. Naloxone has been proven to have some success in reversing carfentanil binding. Success required far more naloxone than usually administered.

More than 170 people died during the during the Moscow theater hostage crisis. The majority of those deaths were, in part, due to the lack of available naloxone. Carfentanil competes much more aggressively at opioid receptors than standard opioids.

The possession of carfentanil may soon become a national security matter.

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