Carfentanil Seizures Up Dramatically In Cuyahoga County, Along With Overdose Deaths

The medical examiner's office warns of the reappearance of the deadly and difficult to detect opioid, carfentanil.
The medical examiner's office warns of the reappearance of the deadly and difficult to detect opioid, carfentanil. [Anne Glausser / ideastream]

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson issued a strong warning on Thursday to the public about an increase in seizures this January of the powerful drug carfentanil, which is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and was developed for use as an elephant tranquilizer.

It wasn’t one big bust, said Gilson, but rather a series of multiple small seizures, indicating a more worrisome and widespread distribution trend.

Concurrently, the county has seen “one of the deadliest months for drug overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County’s history,” according to a press release from the medical examiner’s office.

“There were more overdose deaths — over 50 — in January of 2019. So while we had been trending down, as we mentioned only a month ago, 2019 very much atypically rose up dramatically,” said Gilson.

It’s too early to tell how many of these deaths are due to carfentanil, but the dramatic overdose figures paired with the carfentanil seizures were enough to make Gilson sound the alarm.

“It wasn’t premature to ring the bell,” he said, “because I think that’s what we’re seeing in the increased overdoses, and it’s definitely what we know is in a more widespread distribution than it had been for the previous six months.”

There were 24 carfentanil deaths in Cuyahoga County in 2018 compared to 191 in 2017, according to the medical examiner’s preliminary 2018 drug overdose statistics.

Carfentanil is difficult to detect by sight alone. In recent months, organizations have been offering test strips for detecting another deadly opioid, fentanyl, and some brands may also detect carfentanil.

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