What is Carfentanil?

what is carfentanil

Carfentanil is a Schedule II controlled substance and a potent narcotic analgesic used by veterinarians to sedate large animals. This dangerous drug is deadly to humans in minuscule doses–and is making its way into other addictive opioids like heroin and fentanyl.

People who abuse opioids are at increased risk of accidentally ingesting carfentanil. It’s essential to get treatment to overcome opioid addiction to avoid life-threatening complications like carfentanil overdose. You must also know how to get help in an emergency.

The Dangers of Carfentanil

Carfentanil is a fentanyl analog. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is manufactured to mimic the effects of other opioids, like morphine and oxycodone. While fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine, carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful. Carfentanil is so potent that it is not approved for human use in any capacity. Veterinarians use this drug to sedate large animals, including elephants. Because of the immense potency of the drug, veterinarians wear protective masks and gloves when handling carfentanil to avoid breathing it in or having accidental contact with the skin.

When someone does ingest carfentanil, the effects are quick. The drug binds to opioid receptors in the brain and triggers a cascade of life-threatening effects. Without immediate medical intervention, people who have ingested carfentanil may suffer an overdose and die.

It takes an incredibly small amount of carfentanil to kill a human being. A dose the size of a grain of salt can quickly lead to overdose and death. One milligram of carfentanil could quickly kill a person. The drug is so deadly that a Yellowstone National Park-based organization called the Buffalo Field Campaign warns people against consuming the meat of bison that have been sedated with carfentanil because of the risk of overdose.

The DEA and the public are becoming increasingly alarmed by the fact that carfentanil is showing up in street drugs like heroin and fentanyl. The risk to the public, especially those with opioid addiction, is high.

Recognizing the Risk of Carfentanil Overdose

Carfentanil binds with opioid receptors in the brain and affects the production and absorption of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. These receptors also play a role in a person’s breathing. A carfentanil overdose can lead to respiratory depression, slow or shallow breathing, or may stop a person’s breathing altogether.

A carfentanil overdose is immediately life-threatening. If you or someone near you has symptoms of an overdose, you must seek immediate medical treatment. Some of the signs of carfentanil exposure include:

  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Sudden drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Constricted (small) pupils
  • Clammy skin
  • Sedation

The effects of carfentanil can develop so quickly and be intense that the DEA recommends administering Naloxone while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

Can Someone Develop Carfentanil Abuse or Addiction?

In short, it is not possible to develop carfentanil addiction. Unlike heroin and other opioids, carfentanil is simply too potent to use for a prolonged period and develop tolerance or dependence.

While intentional carfentanil abuse doesn’t occur, opioid abuse and addiction can increase the risk of accidentally ingesting the substance because it may be added to other illicit drugs to increase the potency. In recent years, rates of carfentanil and other fentanyl analogs found in illicit drugs have increased substantially. Carfentanil may look, smell, and taste like other drugs, making it impossible to detect without laboratory testing. As a result, people who are addicted to opioids that they purchase on the streets may be at an enhanced risk of unknowingly ingesting and overdosing.

Opioid abuse occurs when someone takes opioid drugs like morphine, heroin, and fentanyl in higher doses than prescribed, more often than prescribed, or for an extended period. Without intervention and treatment, someone who abuses opioids may develop dependence and addiction to these drugs. Opioid addiction is more common in people who use the drugs recreationally, but can develop in people using opioids under medical supervision, too.

Recognizing a problem can be the first step toward getting life-saving treatment. Signs of opioid addiction include:

  • Developing tolerance–needing more of the drug to get the same effects
  • Using the drug more frequently or in higher doses
  • Doctor shopping–having multiple prescriptions for opioids at various clinics
  • Engaging in risky or illegal behaviors while using drugs
  • Facing legal or financial trouble because of your opioid use
  • Neglecting relationships and hobbies in favor of using opioids
  • Wanting to stop using opioids but feeling like you can’t
  • Falling behind in your responsibilities at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to use opioids despite harmful consequences to your health, relationships, or safety

Opioid abuse can lead to many serious, sometimes life-threatening complications and consequences. Prolonged or heavy substance abuse can cause changes in your brain and body, making it very difficult to stop using them without professional help.

An opioid abuse treatment plan can give people the support and care they need to put addiction in the past and reduce their risk of severe harm–including carfentanil overdose–from opioid addiction.

What Happens in Opioid Abuse Treatment?

The goal of all opioid abuse treatment programs is to help people overcome the physical, emotional, and behavioral aspects of addiction so they can live a healthy life free of substance abuse–and free from the risk of accidental carfentanil overdose.

An opioid addiction treatment program combines evidence-based and holistic treatments to give people the support, education, and skills they need to manage addiction and avoid relapse for life. These treatments include:

  • Medically supported detox
  • Medications
  • Education
  • Individual therapy
  • Mental health and medical care
  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic treatments like acupuncture, massage, nutrition support, and yoga

After completing an opioid abuse treatment program, people must develop an aftercare plan that keeps them active and engaged in their recovery for life.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one lives with opioid abuse and are concerned about the risk of carfentanil overdose, reach out to the Moving Mountains Recovery specialists today to learn about starting one of our holistic addiction treatment programs in New Jersey.


  1. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edky/file/898991/download
  2. https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2016/09/22/dea-issues-carfentanil-warning-police-and-public
  3. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Carfentanil
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6727a4.htm
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