A synthetic opiate is responsible for four recent deaths in Maryland. Heroin and fentanyl killed hundreds in the last year but carfentanil is stronger than both and threatens the lives of its users as well as the people who come to their aid.
In the war on heroin, medics are on the front lines. They receive a daily barrage of calls for drug overdoses.
“I bet at this station they get about 10 a day for OD's,” said Rick Hoffman, president of IAFF Local 734 Baltimore firefighters.
Hoffman represents the first responders in the City with the most heroin-related deaths in the state. Three-hundred forty two people lost their lives in the first nine months of 2016.
Carfentanil threatens to up the body count with its powerful toxicity. The synthetic opioid is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, which is 50 times deadlier than heroin. Carfentanil is meant to be used as an elephant tranquilizer.
“Our first responders really don't know they're into something as bad as this until they shoot them with narcan three or four times and there's no response from the patient. Then they have to know or start figuring that they're into this other drug,” Hoffman said.
Its ability to disguise itself is why Hoffman is sounding the alarm and warning his people to be on high-alert when responding to overdose cases.
“Anytime you have an overdose call maybe the mask, obviously the gloves are always there but the problem with this is it's absorbed through your skin now. It can be inhaled as a powder in the dust form, so it's a major problem,” Hoffman said.
First responders in other parts of the country have changed their protocols. Officers with the Delray Police Department are told to wear gloves, masks, even goggles to every call.
There are no new directives in Baltimore City, however, the City also has the highest number of fentanyl-related deaths and there's fear carfentanil isn't far off.
“We know that fentanyl is being trafficked from other countries and being mixed in with heroin and other drugs without the person using the drugs knowing it, so it's possible that carfentanil can also follow a similar pattern and cause many more deaths,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.
Dr. Wen preaches prevention as well as narcan training.
“In Baltimore City, in the last two years, everyday residents have saved the lives of over 800 of their fellow neighbors and friends that's why it's so important for everyone to learn how to use this life-saving medication,” said Dr. Wen.
But with carfentanil overdoses necessitating more than the two provided doses that come in each narcan kit, the once powerful tool is weakened by this new enemy.
So far, three people in Anne Arundel County have died in apparent overdoses from carfentanil. One person died in Frederick County.
For more information on narcan training, click here.