By now you’ve likely heard of fentanyl, one of the narcotics at the center of the nation’s opioid crisis. But now, authorities in Houston are issuing an urgent warning that goes beyond the narrative of addiction. Officials have found a powerful analogue of fentanyl, carfentanil, a drug so powerful that mere skin contact can lead to lethal exposure.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Drug Enforcement Agency agents held a news conference Tuesday about the carfentanil discovery, and they were joined by Peter Stout, the CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center.
Stout says that in early June, the Houston Police Department (HPD) brought 80 milligrams of a substance presumed to be methamphetamine to the center. Tests revealed that white crystalline powder was actually carfentanil.
“No one really knows what the lethal dose of carfentanil is in humans, but it’s estimated that the lethal dose is about 20 micrograms, which means that pack of 80 milligrams is about 4,000 lethal doses,” Stout says.
He says that 80 milligrams is the size of a fraction of a packet of sugar.
Carfentanil is manufactured in China, and is either shipped directly to the U.S. or comes through Mexico.
“As people are counterfeiting illegal drugs – heroin, illicitly produced Xanax and Vicodin and all of these other things – they’re using fentanyl drugs as a substitute for other opiates because it’s cheap and it’s highly potent and they can put it in there and make a lot of money,” Stout says.
The Houston Forensic Science Center is working with HPD to train officers on how to protect themselves from these substances. HPD is also working to get better protection equipment including gloves and masks and ensure that officers have access to Narcan (naloxone), a medication that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose.
"If you have a family member or a loved one who has an opioid problem, is buying pills from the street [and] those types of things, there’s where the really significant risk is,” Stout says. “Any of these things that you might be getting from a non-legitimate source is a real risk, because you just don’t know what’s in that stuff.”
Stout says that Narcan is available with or without a prescription at any Walgreens in the state and that it costs roughly $30.
“If it’s not for your own protection, you might be able to save a life of somebody who has overdosed,” Stout says.
Written by Molly Smith.