March 30, 2017 08:25 PM
Authorities concerned about recent overdose deaths attributed to a powerful synthetic opioid aim to get out in front of what they say is a growing public safety concern.
A Thursday press conference at Minneapolis City Hall comes on the heels of a medical examiner report showing a Faribault woman’s overdose death in February was attributed to carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
Several officials who spoke called this a "crisis."
Carfentanil 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. Fentanyl is lethal around 2 milligrams. Faribault police on Thrusday said an amount of Carfentanil the size of a grain of salt could be deadly.
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.
Authorities say the drug has been linked to five confirmed carfentanil overdoses deaths across the state. These cases happened between Jan. 30 to Feb. 17. Three cases were in Minneapolis, one was in Dakota County and the other in Rice County.
An additional four to five cases are waiting for toxicology reports to confirm carfentanil is the cause of death.
Dr. Andrew Baker, chief medical examiner for Hennepin, Dakota and Scott counties, said at the press conference that toxicology reports do not show the presence of carfentanil at an autopsy.
Therefore, it requires specialized testing.
Baker said the routine drug and alcohol screenings are usually "quite comprehensive." But when recent cases did not turn up a cause of death, special testing was sought for carfentanil.
The victims ranged in age from 23- to 43-years-old, Baker said. And they were "otherwise free of disease."
Law enforcement officials say the drug’s presence in the illicit U.S. market is concerning, as the relative strength of carfentanil could lead to overdoses even among opioid-tolerant users.
In fact, heroin or fentanyl users might not even be aware the drug is laced with carfentanil, a DEA agent said at the press conference. Distributors might not know either.
The DEA agent also said the drug is so strong "there is no way you could dilute it for human consumption."
Carfentanil comes mostly from China, and it is brought in via traditional trade routes through Mexico, authorities report.
The DEA issued a nationwide warning about the drug in September, saying its improper handling could be deadly. The drug is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the DEA warning.
“Deadly carfentanil in Minnesota is extremely concerning for public safety,” Fairbault Police Chief Andy Bohlen said. “And we urge citizens to contact law enforcement if someone has come in contact with this substance.”
Updated: March 30, 2017 08:25 PM
Created: March 30, 2017 11:37 AM
Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company