5 More Overdose Deaths Blamed on Carfentanil

May 19, 2017 06:28 PM

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has confirmed five more people have died of carfentanil-related overdoses, bringing the total number of deaths to 10 this year in the area the office covers.

“We remain vigilant and continue to order the carfentanil and designer opioid testing on a case-by-case basis after considering the autopsy findings, investigation and laboratory results,” said Dr. Andrew Baker, the chief medical examiner for Hennepin, Dakota and Scott Counties, in a release.

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RELATED: State Law Enforcement Concerned About Growing Presence of Synthetic Opioid Carfentanil

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine. It is used as a tranquilizing agent for elephants and other large mammals, and its lethal dose in humans is unknown, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"It's definitely playing Russian Roulette," Baker said.

The drug can come in several forms and can be absorbed through the skin or through accidental inhalation, according to the DEA. The agency said that means the drug poses a serious risk to first responders and health care workers as well.

Baker says he has seen a lot in his roughly 20 years as a medical examiner. But he says over the course of the opioid epidemic, not much surprises him.

"It almost feels like a cyclical thing," Baker said. 

Since January, ten overdose deaths have come into his office involving carfentanil.

"The thing that makes carfentanil so dangerous is it's so much more potent than anything than we've ever seen," Baker said. 

Baker knows this is just a fraction of the bigger opioid epidemic. For instance, 10 years ago he reported 10 heroin deaths. Last year they had 73.

"So on top of that problem which continues to grow, now we've got a new more dangerous drug on the streets that's harder to detect that's a lot harder to test for," Baker said. 

As carfentanil overdoses come into this office, Dr. Baker then notifies law enforcement and the DEA. That's because he says it takes a team to find the source of the problem.

"Our challenge as forensic scientists is the bad are always 6 months ahead of us good guys. Something new hits the streets and it's going to take time before we put together a test and figure out how to detect it," Baker said. 

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Frank Rajkowski

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