Carfentanil is an opioid used as a tranquilizing agent for elephants and other large mammals, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as treating late-stage cancer patients for pain relief. Now it's flowing into veins of opiate-addicted people worldwide, courtesy of major drug cartels.

Don Bayley, ThinkStock

The heroin and opioid epidemic is, sadly, no secret to New Jersey, but carfentanil and other fentanyl derivatives might be the worst of all.

"Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin," according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"Most of what we've been seeing is actually manufactured over in China," said D.E.A. Special Agent Tim McMahon of the Newark, New Jersey Division. "The D.E.A. has an office over in Beijing. From the highest levels of D.E.A. headquarters, we are working with the Chinese authorities to try and limit the importation."

McMahon says there are still some companies that ship out an order when they receive it, but adds carfentanil can also be purchased through what investigators call 'the dark web.' Think of a shady, grubby street alley off the information highway, and you get the idea.

"When people use 'the dark web' it hits routers literally all over the world," said McMahon. "So it's very difficult to track if somebody's placing an order, where it's ultimately going."

While the main supply was kept in hospitals, he adds, traffickers did their research and found a way to order their own supply.

"Somehow the drug traffickers saw how potent that it could be, and started looking into it," said McMahon.

He then explains how the money trail begins and where it goes.

"Ultimately a portion of that money is making it's way back down to the cartels, that are responsible for the illegal narcotics into the country" said McMahon.

From there he adds, "the person on the street corner is taking a small portion of that, his supplier is taking a portion of that," explains McMahon. "But ultimately the supplier down in...Mexico, Colombia or any of the other countries...the ones manufacturing the drugs are getting paid."

Some of nearly every dollar spent on drug deals, he adds, make it back to the source countries.

However, in some of these countries the drug cartels are so powerful they've instilled fear and horror in anyone who stands in their way - including, sometimes, their own governments.

"Just do a Google search on the drug violence down in Mexico, and the images that come up are absolutely horrific," said McMahon.

"We hear on the news all the time about the atrocities that ISIS is committing over in the Middle East, but the same type of atrocities are being committed by the drug cartels in Mexico."

It's prevalent in the U.S., he adds, due to the high demand for the narcotic, but there's no simple solution to combat the epidemic.

"It's not just a problem that law enforcement is going to solve," said McMahon. "It's working with communities, doctors, teachers, education and also with the foreign governments."

He adds that when the demand for the drug diminishes, so does the supply.

It's a powdery substance that sometimes is mixed with heroin, but increasingly is just substituted for heroin altogether, in doses that practically guarantee death.

"The users are really taking a chance because your putting your trust in a drug dealer," said McMahon. "A lot of times the drug dealer thinks he's selling heroin and doesn't even know there's fetanil in it."

This may be due he adds, to the dealer purchasing his quantity from someone else.

In Monmouth County, there has been 1 death from Acetyl Fentanil in Ocean Township, Aberdeen, Middletown, and Red Bank. In addition, there has been 1 death from Furanyl Fentanil in Belmar, Matawan, Aberdeen, Monmouth Beach, and Highlands with 2 in Keansburg.

There was also 1 death from Para-Fluoro-Isobutyryl Fentanil in Asbury Park, all according to the Monmouth County Prosecutors Office.


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