One hundred times more potent than the drug that played a role in killing Prince and 10,000 times stronger than morphine, carfentanil is the strongest opioid commercially available—an animal tranquilizer so lethal it can kill if absorbed through the skin and permanently take out a 7-ton elephant, per the Washington Post. But in two counties near the Ohio-Indiana border, several dozen drug overdoses were reported this week—up to 60 of them over a 48-hour stretch—and local officials fear the ODs may have been caused by heroin that drug dealers have been cutting with carfentanil, fentanyl, and even rat poison to offer a more powerful high and to make their supplies last longer. "This is clearly going to … kill a lot of people," the health commissioner in Ohio's Hamilton County said in July, per WCPO, when officials started warning people about possibly tainted heroin after nearly three dozen ODs that resulted in six deaths, CNN reports.
Indiana's Jennings County has also been hard hit, with a dozen or so ODs (with one death) reported Tuesday; Hamilton County registered between 36 and 50 ODs and two deaths during the same period. One of the antidotes used to combat heroin ODs is naloxone, aka Narcan—but the antidote's effectiveness may be weakened if the drug causing the overdose is a mix, meaning users need to take more Narcan than usual to get it to work, if it works at all. Besides the difficult job of law enforcement trying to root out local dealers—Hamilton County cops say there's likely more than one seller in their area, and that at least one is giving the deadly mixture away for free—health officials have an equally monumental task: trying to help those who are addicted. "We're using horses against tanks," a Kentucky doctor with St. Elizabeth Physicians tells Cincinnati.com, noting the logistical challenges of offering effective treatment programs. Other states reporting issues with carfentanil: Kentucky, Florida, and Pennsylvania. (In a West Virginia city, 27 ODs in just five hours.)