Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid with a potency similar to fentanyl, was never intended for human use. The drug, sold under the name Wildnil, is used to sedate large animals, including elephants and deer. But in recent years, the deadly drug has been found in street drugs, such as heroin, making the drug even deadlier to those who take it.
A spike in fatal opioid drug overdoses has been linked to carfentanil, which is reportedly 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl, another deadly opioid that has led to numerous overdose deaths. Authorities say carfentanil has been mixed with other drugs to stretch the drug supply, cut costs, and boost drug sales.
Many people who use drugs containing carfentanil are often unaware that the drugs have carfentanil in them. It is easy to disguise the drug’s presence. It has no odor and blends in well with heroin and cocaine, which are both white substances.
Recreational carfentanil users are at risk nearly immediately as they come into contact with the drug. They can inhale the substance or absorb it through their skin. It only takes one small grain of carfentanil to kill someone. This is why medical personnel who respond to overdose emergencies wear protective clothing and avoid close contact.
A WCPO news report asserts that carfentanil withdrawal is more severe than heroin withdrawal. Symptoms can be overwhelming as they affect a person all at once.
Side effects of using carfentanil, according to Confirm Biosciences, include:
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recommends using naloxone, an opioid antidote, immediately on anyone who exhibits any of these side effects after using carfentanil, according to Confirm Biosciences.
Taking carfentanil, whether on purpose or by accident, often leads to overdose or death. It works similarly to other opioids in that it binds to the body’s opioid receptors, providing pain relief and also euphoria and sedative effects. Still, the drug is so potent that overdose can suppress breathing and heart rate and put users in a coma.
People who use carfentanil in small doses can become dependent on it. Should they decide to stop using it, they likely will experience withdrawal symptoms that usually accompany opioid withdrawal. Many of those symptoms fall into the flu category. Users can experience:
Shallow breathing, tremors, weak pulse, and other symptoms are red flags and warrant a call to 911 for immediate medical treatment.
Managing these symptoms on one’s own can be challenging. Seeking help from medical professionals at an accredited facility may be required to end dependence on carfentanil and other opioids.
Determining how long it will take to withdraw from carfentanil is not easy to do. There are few studies on how the drug affects humans, and various factors that change according to the person often shape the timeline.
These factors include how large a carfentanil dose is consumed, a person’s carfentanil tolerance, how often carfentanil has been used, the manner in which it is used, and if it is used with other drugs and alcohol. Age, weight, sex, substance use history, and other variables also affect the timeline.
Medical professionals at a substance treatment center can offer more tailored guidance for the person looking to detox from the substance. Carfentanil also has a long half-life of nearly eight hours. A drug’s half-life is how long it takes to reduce to half its concentration while in the body.
A timeline of carfentanil withdrawal could look like the following:
Many substance users who want to stop using drugs and alcohol think they can stop after long-term use whenever they are ready and detox their own. This is very dangerous to do and could put someone in danger. First, suddenly quitting a substance after long-term use can be taxing to the body and brain as they try to adjust to the drug’s absence from the body.
You should never go cold turkey when attempting to detox from a drug. To ensure you stop use safely without causing further harm, go to an accredited facility that starts treatment for a substance use disorder with medical detox.
Medical detox offers you the safety and support you need to start your recovery off on the right foot. Medical and addiction care professionals can help you manage carfentanil withdrawal the right way. They can monitor your vitals 24 hours a day during your stay in detox and administer any medications you need to address discomfort. If any medical emergencies arise, trained professionals will know what to do.
They also can perform assessments and create a tapering schedule to ensure you withdraw from opioid use correctly. The body needs time to adjust, and medical professionals will know how to do that for you based on your unique needs.
Medical detox also ensures that you do not relapse and pick up carfentanil again to avoid withdrawal symptoms that come about when use is stopped. People who attempt to stop drug use on their own risk falling into the cycle of stopping use abruptly, only to start again when withdrawal starts. Relapse can end in overdose if a person takes too much of a drug in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms.
A person undergoing medical detox in a hospital or treatment facility avoids these situations.
Once you have gained medical stability after medical detox, which can last several days, you likely will be guided toward finding a treatment program to address your substance abuse. This program will likely fall somewhere along the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s continuum of care, which ranges from inpatient or residential treatment to outpatient care.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends staying in substance abuse treatment for at least a 90-day period. A longer stay in treatment is believed to encourage long-lasting sobriety as recovering users learn tools and strategies they can use to recognize their triggers that lead to substance use and avoid relapse.
You may undergo medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to address your carfentanil use. MAT uses prescription medications with therapies and counseling to improve patients’ chances of recovering from opioid use disorder (OUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD). The treatment approach has been credited with many things, including helping people stick with their recovery program and reducing their chances of having an overdose.
If you participate in the program, you will take medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which could include buprenorphine or naloxone. Talk with your doctor or addiction care provider about MAT to learn if it is something that could work for you.
After you cycle through your program, you will be encouraged to continue by joining aftercare programs that encourage full-time sobriety. You will connect with like-minded people who understand your journey and help you stay on the path to recovery and living substance-free. If you need help with finding sober living housing, a job, or a recovery community, aftercare programs can help.
You can also continue receiving support through an outpatient program that keeps you accountable to your recovery goals. Managing addiction is often a lifelong process for many people, and there are many resources available to help you along the way.
You can also join a 12-step program, such as Narcotics Anonymous, or follow a self-guided recovery program, such as SMART® Recovery, to keep you on track.
When looking for a treatment program, remember to ask questions and make sure it takes your needs and preferences into consideration. Recovery programs are effective when they are tailored to the individual receiving treatment for substance use.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2005, March 28). Carfentanil. from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Carfentanil
WPCO 9. “Deadly carfentanil comes with debilitating withdrawal symptoms” YouTube video. from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81YR3Liz-bc
Carfentanil use Information: Carfentanil side effects and symptoms. (n.d.). from https://www.confirmbiosciences.com/knowledge/drug-facts/carfentanil/
Cole A; Mutlow A; Isaza R; Carpenter J ; Koch D ; Hunter RP; Dresser BL;. (n.d.). Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Carfentanil and Naltrexone in Female Common Eland (Taurotragus Oryx). from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17319131/
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015, May 13) ASAM Continuum. Knowledge Base. What are the ASAM Levels of Care? from https://www.asamcontinuum.org/knowledgebase/what-are-the-asam-levels-of-care/
NIDA. (January, 2018). “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment
Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (n.d.). Information about Medication-Assisted Treatment. from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/information-about-medication-assisted-treatment-mat
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020, April 29). Medication and Counseling Treatment. from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment#medications-used-in-mat