What is Carfentanil? Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid solely used to tranquilise large animals like elephants.
It’s a fentanyl analogue, meaning it’s similar to the drug fentanyl, another synthetic opioid.
Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. For reference, heroin is four to five times more powerful than morphine.
The risk of overdose and death is extremely high in both carfentanil and fentanyl. But while fentanyl can be prescribed for human use, carfentanil is so deadly that it is not approved for human use whatsoever.
Carfentanil can be made easily and inexpensively in a lab. Today, the drug is being laced into other street drugs such as heroin and cocaine to make them stronger and cheaper to produce. Most people don’t know when or if they’re buying drugs laced with carfentanil—in fact, the amount that’s often mixed into heroin is so minimal that chemists can struggle to find carfentanil in drug analyses.
It can take just a few granules of carfentanil to overdose and die. You can’t see it, taste it, or smell it. Carfentanil also goes by the street names drop dead, serial killer, C.50, and grey death (when mixed with other opiates).
Is Carfentanil Addictive?
Unlike other opiates, such as morphine and heroin, using carfentanil typically doesn’t make you addicted. It’s so potent that its most common outcomes are overdose or death.
If you do develop an addiction to carfentanil, it’s most likely by accident. If you use heroin, cocaine, or other drugs in the form of white powder, carfentanil can be mixed in without your knowledge. Carfentanil is so potent that you can absorb it through the skin, making accidental ingestion possible as well.
If you take carfentanil and don’t suffer overdose or death, your body can become accustomed to it in addition to the other drugs it was mixed into. The best way to avoid carfentanil addiction (or the risk of death from carfentanil) is to avoid the drugs it’s typically cut with: cocaine, heroin, and other drugs acquired in the form of white powder.
Carfentanil Use in the UK
According to a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the rate of deaths involving fentanyl-like drugs in the UK are on the rise. There’s also concern that numbers are underestimated, as forensic analyses detailed enough to find traces of carfentanil (and other fentanyl-like drugs) sometimes aren’t carried out.
Carfentanil is making its way to the UK via the ‘dark web’—a hidden corner of the Internet often used to exchange illicit goods like drugs and weapons. Some users buy carfentanil from other countries on the dark web because it’s easier and cheaper than purchasing heroin on the streets.
It’s increasingly common for drug dealers in the UK to cut heroin and other drugs with fentanyl and its analogues, including carfentanil, to make their drugs more potent.
According to the same report from the ACMD, “There remains an ongoing risk of fentanyl and other new synthetic opioids increasingly infiltrating the UK heroin market and increasing rates of drug-related deaths… Should more established UK heroin distribution groups begin to obtain and include fentanyl within their product, the problem has the potential to become much more intractable.”
Signs of Carfentanil Abuse
The most common outcome of using carfentanil is overdose or death. If you take carfentanil and don’t suffer one of these outcomes, the symptoms and signs of carfentanil abuse are similar to that of other opioids:
- inability to control your use
- intense cravings
- isolating from family and friends
- stealing from loved ones
- obsessing over when and how you’ll get your next dose
- spending all your money on acquiring drugs
Some people start using synthetic opioids like carfentanil to reach the ‘high’ they once felt with other opioids such as heroin. But when you mix carfentanil into other drugs, you risk escalating the symptoms of opioid use and overdosing.
The Dangers of Carfentanil for Heroin Users
Carfentanil is most frequently mixed into heroin to increase the drug’s potency. It can be made quickly and cheaply in a lab, making it easy for people selling drugs to lace it into the heroin you buy.
Because carfentanil is a white powder just like heroin and cocaine, you can’t detect it without forensic analysis. Even then, carfentanil is lethal in trace amounts, and can go undetected even by professional forensic chemists. You can’t smell, taste, or see the difference between carfentanil and other white-powder drugs.
This means when you take heroin, cocaine, or other drugs carfentanil can be mixed with, you could be taking carfentanil without intending to.
What to Do if You Overdose on Carfentanil
Carfentanil overdose looks similar to overdosing on other opioids, though it may take effect more rapidly with carfentanil. If you or someone else overdoses on carfentanil, you may see the following signs:
- loss of muscle control
- immediately falling unconscious (especially while still administering the drug)
- cyanosis (skin turning blue)
- extremely slow breathing
- pinpoint pupils
NOTE: Overdosing on carfentanil is a medical emergency. If you believe you or someone you know has overdosed on carfentanil, call 999 and administer naloxone immediately.
Detox and Withdrawal
Most people detoxing from carfentanil need to simultaneously detox from other drugs the carfentanil was mixed with. Carfentanil withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of other opioids.
Within 12 hours of your last dose, you’ll begin to experience your first withdrawal symptoms. Often these are flu-like: muscle aches and pains, sweating, and nausea are all common. You may also feel agitated or restless.
Over the following few days, withdrawal symptoms will reach their peak. Many people feel intense cravings in the first one to three days, as well as worsened physical symptoms such as muscle spasms, uncontrollable shaking, and diarrhoea.
After physical symptoms peak in the first week, they usually taper off within another week or so. At this point, you may still struggle with psychological symptoms of withdrawal: depression, anxiety, apathy, and cravings.
Withdrawal is different for everyone.
When you misuse opioids, your body only functions normally when the drug is in your system. If you try to withdraw on your own, the combination of your physical symptoms and the cravings you experience may cause you to start taking opioids again to feel relief.
This can be extremely dangerous, as even a brief pause in opioid use can cause your tolerance to lower. If you take the same size dose as before attempting detox after you’ve been withdrawing from opioids, you could potentially overdose.
Treatment for Carfentanil Addiction
Seeking treatment for carfentanil addiction is the first step to recovery. An inpatient treatment programme is highly recommended when recovering from carfentanil addiction. At Castle Craig, we offer medically managed detox, counselling, and behavioural therapies, all within a therapeutic residential setting to holistically heal your addiction and prepare you for a fulfilling life in sobriety.
Detoxing from any opioid on your own is extremely difficult—when addicted, your body becomes physically dependent on the drug to function. Medically assisted detox helps you to comfortably manage your withdrawal symptoms and protects you from the dangers of attempting detox on your own.
Here at Castle Craig, you’ll benefit not only from the medical supervision of our highly trained team of doctors, psychiatrists, and nurses, but you’ll also receive all the surrounding support of our addiction-specialised staff while you’re in this stage of care.
Our counselling services for opioid use help you to change the attitudes and behaviours that led to your addiction. Our highly qualified and compassionate addiction treatment team also helps you build healthy skills, coping strategies, and support networks to support your life in recovery. You’ll learn to have fun, connect with others, and engage more fully in life without the use of carfentanil or other opioids.
Castle Craig combines a variety of counselling options, all of which can be personalised to your unique needs. You’ll take part in individual CBT therapy, designed to help you change unhelpful behavioural patterns in your life as well as how to cope with your triggers. You’ll also participate in group therapy, where you’ll have the chance to connect with others dealing with similar challenges, as well as an array of complementary therapies to help you integrate your treatment experience.
Inpatient treatment helps you step away from a life that’s become unmanageable and start your next chapter with intensive evidence-based therapeutic care, surrounded by peers who understand what you’ve been through and under the guidance of experienced addiction specialists.
If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, getting professional help is the first step towards feeling better. A life without drugs is not only possible, it’s completely within your reach. Get in touch today to learn how our admissions team can help you plan your first step.
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Page published: August 7, 2019. Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked January 14, 2022