Vail Daily column: Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid, has come to Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid, has come to Eagle County

Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek completed the FBI's national training academy.
Wendy Griffith|Special to the Daily |

The flowers were in full bloom and lined the walkway with the cheeriness of spring. The knock on the door produced a well-dressed woman with a welcoming smile on her face. Upon hearing the news, she collapsed to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably: Her baby girl is not coming home — ever.

“The only decision you’ll ever have will be the first.” For some, addiction to drugs is immediate; for others, it is a longer process. Ultimately, it conquers everyone. Now, there is a new game in town.

Lives have been devastated across the country, and it has circled Eagle County like a vulture, ready to pounce on its next prey, yet many don’t even know its name. It can kill a person within minutes. A slight whiff, or dust on the fingers, can immediately slow respiration and heart rate until it stops. So deadly is this drug, that a shot will bring down an elephant. Even if the victim survives, there is a strong possibility of permanent brain damage due to a lack of oxygen.

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine. An amount smaller than a grain of salt can kill you. Everything from heroin to marijuana is being laced with this new drug. It was developed in 1974 as a tranquilizer for large game animals weighing five to six tons. Vets at zoos are familiar with its potency and use extreme caution while handling. According to the Washington Post, the Buffalo Field Campaign, which protects bison in Yellowstone National Park, says the drug is so powerful that humans shouldn’t even eat the meat of animals sedated with it.

Carfentanil is clear, odorless and virtually undetectable by its victims. Most are unaware they are ingesting a lethal poison. It comes in liquid, powder, spray, tablet and even paper form. Some compare its toxicity to nerve gas. Like other illegal drugs, there is no ability to detect what additives have been included in the making. It also has no socioeconomic boundaries. When your child leaves home to attend a party, what they eat or drink could be laced with this chemical opioid.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office has established a countywide drug task force, working closely with local police departments, first responders and hospitals, help save lives and deter distribution of this and other dangerous illegal drugs. However, since skin contact in itself can be lethal, special precautions must be taken during an overdose emergency.

There is also increasing concern that terrorists can use carfentanil as a chemical weapon. It’s easily obtainable and can be released as an aerosol in populated centers such as malls or transit stations. Deaths are spreading across the country, and in places including Ohio, it is quickly approaching catastrophic levels.

While carfentanil increases a drug dealer’s profit margin, it is also killing off their client base, which is bad for business, so even they are becoming more cautious.

Where does carfentanil come from? Most arrives from China, where it is not considered a controlled substance and is manufactured legally and sold over the internet. Reportedly, in 2016 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seized one kilogram of carfentanil shipped from China in a box labelled “printer accessories,” and the Canada Border Services Agency reported that the shipment contained 50 million lethal doses of the drug, enough to wipe out its entire population. Carfentanil is the nuclear bomb of drugs.

According to a report by CBS news, a saleswoman from Jilin Tely Import and Export Co. wrote in an email, “We can supply carfentanil for sure. It’s one of our hot sales products.” China has done nothing to curtail its international sales and distribution. According to that same report, carfentanil is banned from the battlefield under the Chemical Weapons Convention. No illegal smuggling network is needed, as vendors recommend shipping by the state-owned China Postal Express & Logistics Co.

One of the most effective counter measures, for those who have ingested carfentanil, is to administer the opioid antidote Narcan, which is a nasal spray version of Naloxone. Narcan treats the respiratory depression caused by the opioid overdose, and while carfentanil requires five times the amount, Narcan’s effect is immediate and will last 30 to 60 minutes, providing additional time to reach a hospital. Narcan works by blocking the opioid messages to the brain and restoring normal breathing, but it only lasts minutes, while the effects of carfentanil last for hours. Medical intervention is critical to survival.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is on the front lines, fighting this latest threat to our community and ever vigilant on its deadly potential in areas of public security. Be cautious — no one should end their day in the morgue.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.