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Why Did The American Develop Something More Potent Than Heroin
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Carfentanil is an analog of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, shown here in molecular form, and is thought to be 100 times more potent.

In the past few months, a string of overdoses across the U.S. has been linked to an opioid drug so potent that it’s not intended for human consumption.
Carfentanil is the world's most powerful commercial opioid, considered to be 100 times more potent than its relative fentanyl, the carefully controlled prescription painkiller linked to Prince's death, which itself is 50 times stronger than heroin.
Originally synthesized in the 1970s, carfentanil is marketed under the name Wildnil as a general anaesthetic for large animals like elephants, and was never intended for humans. But like any number of new synthetic drugs, it’s easily finding its way from clandestine labs and into the illicit drug supply through the mail. Sold openly on the web or through drug markets on the anonymous Tor network, the drug is being added to heroin and counterfeit pain medication by traffickers and often taken by users who don't know exactly what they're consuming.
"We’re seeing a lot of the activity take place over the internet through anonymous relationships between a consumer and the drug manufacturer or source of supply," says Russ Baer, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. The agency has warned communities across the country to be on alert for the drug, and has told first responders to wear protective gloves and masks, since the drug can be dangerous to someone who simply touches it.
Both drugs, along with a growing cornucopia of illicit synthetics, are largely being manufactured in China, Baer says, and smuggled into the United States both over land and through the U.S. Postal Service. In June, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it had seized almost 200 pounds in fentanyl and other synthetic opioids—that is, those made purely in labs, rather than from the opium poppy—compared to only 8 pounds the previous year.
In recent months, hundreds of drug overdoses have been linked to carfentanil and fentanyl, a related opioid said to be 100 times the strength of morphine and commonly used to treat severe pain in cancer patients. The drug has showed up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, in western Pennsylvania, central Kentucky, and in Ohio, where, in one county this August, at least 96 heroin users overdosed in a single week.
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Cursory internet searches turn up options to order the drug from Chinese sellers on numerous e-commerce websites and through dark web markets on the Tor network, where users can trade largely anonymously using bitcoin and purchase other controlled substances, from ketamine to cocaine.
Dark web vendors contacted about their supplies didn't respond to requests for comment, and one Chinese vendor advertising carfentanil on a Korea-based e-commerce site responded only with a price quote—$300 for 200 milligrams—ignoring questions about how the product would be shipped.
Vendors often use discreet packaging for the drug. Last month Canadian border officials reported seizing one kilogram of the drug labeled as printer accessories, with agents wearing hazmat suits to handle the highly potent chemical.

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