'Sinister' elephant tranquilizer making rounds in Ohio, expected to close in on Western Pa.

Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, and requires multiple doses of Narcan to counteract


By Tony Raap
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

PITTSBURGH — A synthetic painkiller that is 10,000 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl likely will make its way to Western Pennsylvania, authorities say.

The drug, carfentanil, is being mixed with street drugs in Cincinnati and Akron as users try to get a better high.

Officials in Western Pennsylvania haven't come across the drug but say it's only a matter of time before they do.

“It's not if it gets here. It's when it gets here,” said Mercer County Coroner John Libonati, who responded to four overdose deaths in the first week of August. Toxicology reports are pending.

Mercer County had 17 fatal overdoses in 2015. There already have been 14 this year, Libonati said.

“It's such a large problem,” he said. “I hate to say it, but no matter what our efforts are, the evil is gaining ground.”

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office has not detected carfentanil in any drug-related deaths, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office is aware of the drug but has yet to encounter it, office spokesman Mike Manko said.

Carfentanil is used to tranquilize elephants and other large animals. It's so powerful it can be absorbed through the skin, creating a safety risk for police, paramedics and coroners who come across it.

Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis issued an alert saying the drug has led to “an overwhelming number of overdoses” in “close proximity to Western Pennsylvania,” according to the Times Leader in Wilkes- Barre.

Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, said he has heard reports of carfentanil being a problem in other parts of the country.

Because the drug is so potent, it may take several doses of Narcan, an opioid antidote, to revive someone who overdoses on carfentanil.

“This takes it to another level,” Capretto said of the drug's potency. “This is sinister.”

Copyright 2016 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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