Warning: deadly drug surfacing
Schuylkill County coroner Dr. David J. Moylan has sat with dozens of distraught families, gently telling them their daughters or sons died of drug overdoses.
Most of the deaths — 77 in Schuylkill County alone last year — were from opiates such as heroin, morphine and oxycodone.
Now, a new, even more deadly drug is surfacing: carfentanil, an animal sedative.
“The gold standard for pain relief that all narcotics are compared to is morphine,” Moylan said.
Carfentanil, he added, is “10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.”
“Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities.” said U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin. It is crazy dangerous. Synthetics such as fentanyl and carfentanil can kill you.”
“As of Jan. 18, Pennsylvania had three known and confirmed deaths from the use of carfentanil, according to the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association,” said state Department of Health Deputy Press Secretary Wes Culp.
One death was in Butler County at the end of 2016, according to Butler County Coroner William Young. The first two deaths were in Beaver County in November and December 2016, according to Beaver County Coroner David Gabauer, Culp said.
“We haven’t seen any (in Schuylkill) yet,” Moylan said.
“Carfentanil is intended to sedate large animals and is not meant for humans — it can potentially kill anyone who comes into contact with it,” Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy said.
“It’s absolutely essential that first responders, health professionals, and family members and friends of individuals with substance use disorder educate themselves about carfentanil to avoid accidental overdoses,” she said.
“First responders should utilize appropriate personal protective equipment when treating known or suspected carfentanil overdoses,” Murphy said.
Carfentanil is absorbed through skin contact, inhalation, oral exposure or ingestion, which may lead to an accidental drug poisoning, according to the Department of Health.
In September, Gov. Tom Wolf made the drug a temporary Schedule II controlled substance under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.
That means the drug has high potential for abuse, which may lead to severe psychic or physical dependence.
Wolf called on lawmakers to make the classification permanent.
“I have made battling the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania one of my top priorities and am committed to using all resources available to curb this epidemic,” Wolf said. “By temporarily making carfentanil a Schedule II controlled substance, we are allowing law enforcement to take appropriate action against those in possession of this extremely dangerous drug. I am encouraging the Legislature to take action to permanently make carfentanil a Schedule II controlled substance.”
In December, state Rep. Matthew E. Baker, R-Bradford/Potter/Tioga, and chairman of the House Health Committee, introduced legislation that would do that.
His proposal, which would severely restrict its availability and make it illegal to possess or distribute without a license or a prescription, is currently in the Judiciary Committee.
“Recently, there have been instances where the drug has been added to other opioids like heroin to boost its effect, a cocktail that has resulted in several deaths,” Baker wrote.