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Elephant tranquilizer carfentanil linked to Wayne County deaths

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A potent synthetic opioid is showing up in Michigan’s illicit drug supply, and is now linked to at least 19 deaths.

Carfentanil is used as an elephant tranquilizer. It can be mixed with heroin, or pressed into pill form.

It’s said to be 100 times more potent than its cousin fentanyl, and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. It’s been linked to a spike in overdose deaths around the Midwest over the past several months.

And it’s now linked to 19 deaths in Wayne County since July, according to a joint statement put out by the county and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday. In all those cases, it was combined with another drug like heroin.

Additionally, “Over the past week, there has been an increase in severe opioid-related toxicity in southeastern and central Michigan reported to Michigan Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s Hospital of Michigan,” the statement said.

Authorities suspect that spike is tied to carfentanil, but can’t confirm that. Carfentanil was also suspected in a Kent County overdose death.

Health agencies are warning first responders, hospitals and local public health agencies to “be alert for patients with suspected heroin overdose who do not respond to [opioid overdose-reversing drug] naloxone in the usual way.”

Due to the extreme potency of carfentanil, they’re also warned to “treat unknown chemicals and substances with extreme caution.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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