BEL AIR, Md. - The extremely powerful synthetic opiate carfentanil is now in Harford County. The deadly drug was linked to a fatal overdose earlier this month.
This is the first documented carfentanil death in the county. There have been four others throughout the state including three deaths in Anne Arundel County and one in Frederick County.
“What is simply as bad as putting the gun in your mouth and calling Russian roulette because it's going to kill you,” said Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler. "It's a matter of time. You're going to pull the trigger maybe on the first time, maybe the second or third, but it is going to kill you."
The synthetic opioid is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Carfentanil is often used as a tranquilizer for elephants and other large animals. A single grain is enough to kill an adult.
The drug is extremely worrisome to officials in Harford County, where they document heroin deaths on billboards. The increased awareness is meant to warn users, but it's not sending the immediate message some would hope.
“The sign says 34, it's now 35 lives lost here in Harford County. We knew we had one yesterday, another overdose death. Of the autopsies that have come back, 19 of them so far have all had synthetic fentanyl involved in those overdoses and now one with carfentanil,” said Sheriff Gahler.
The new drug is so potent, its influenced procedural changes.
Carfentanil minimizes the effectiveness of narcan, a medication that helps reverse opioid overdoses, so more is required to keep someone alive. Knowing that, the Harford County Sheriff's Office changed protocols last month. Each deputy used to carry doses of narcan with only 2 milligrams per spray, now they carry doses of 4 milligrams each in a more easily dispensable nasal spray.
Still that's proving not to be enough. Sheriff Gahler read a report on Thursday where multiple doses of the 4 mg narcan was needed to treat an overdose victim.
“A 4 mg dose was administered six different times,” Gahler said.
The new 4 mg spray costs the department $75. The Sheriff's Office was originally paying $15 for the 2 mg spray.
The epidemic is quickly draining the department's supplies even after they received a recent $15,000 grant.
“We expected that to last for some time, we're now projecting it'll only last us through the end of the summer,” said Gahler.
Addicts are also using narcan as a life-preserver.
“We're hearing stories of addicts getting together, where one person stays sober with a dose of narcan to try to revive if someone should lose consciousness or overdose. So, we're hearing of narcan parties,” said Gahler.
However, carfentanil threatens to rip a hole in the safety net that narcan once provided.
“Carfentanil, oftentimes, we're not going to be able to recover those people, the drug is just too strong,” said Sheriff Gahler.
Due to the increased risk of being exposed to carfentanil, Sheriff's deputies are also no longer conducting drug field tests. The department bought a device that allows them to do controlled air testing locally before sending the substance off to a lab.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the Maryland crisis hotline at 1-800-422-0009.
The Harford County Health Department is also offering a naloxone training and certification program on May 23 starting at 6 p.m. at the Edgewood Branch Library. For more information, click here.
To learn more about the heroin epidemic and how families are coping, visit abc2news.com/heroin.