First fatal overdose involving carfentanil reported in Harford

Harford County had its first reported case of a fatal overdose involving carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that's 10,000 times more potent than morphine, according to the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

The agency was notified Wednesday that a toxicology report on an overdose earlier this month tested positive for carfentanil.

"We're not surprised. We knew it was coming. Now it is here," Cristie Kahler, public information officer for the Sheriff's Office, said Thursday.

The Sheriff's Office isn't releasing further information about the overdose because it's still part of an ongoing investigation, but the agency is using this death as an opportunity for another public safety message.

"We feel the community needs to know, people suffering from addiction need to know and that people who love people suffering from addiction need to know that this is in our community," Kahler said.

As of Monday, in Harford County 34 people have died from heroin overdoses this year, according to the Sheriff's Office. There have been 126 non-fatal overdoses.

Carfentanil, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency in an alert issued in September 2016, is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, another synthetic opioid.

Opioids have killed more than 100 people in Harford County since the Sheriff's Office began counting overdoses in January 2014. More than 300,000 people have died from opiate overdoses since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control in a statement dated Dec. 16, 2016.

According to the CDC release, death rates for synthetic opioids other than methadone increased 72.2 percent nationally from 2014 to 2015, while heroin death rates increased 20.6 percent nationally in the same period.

According to the CDC, carfentanil is used in veterinary medicine as a sedative or anesthetic agent for large animals, such as elephants.

"It is a deadly drug," Kahler reiterated. "People suffering from addiction, we want them to be vigilant. We want the community to know how dangerous and deadly that drug is."

She also warned that it would likely take several doses of Narcan to counteract the effects of carfentanil.

Maryland state health officials reported April 21, according to The Baltimore Sun, that three other cases of carfentanil overdose deaths have been reported in Maryland this year – two in Anne Arundel County and one in Frederick County.

"We expected it. It's in all surrounding jurisdictions," Kahler said, adding that investigators knew Harford wouldn't be spared and that it was not a matter of if it came to Harford, but when.

As the investigation into the overdose continues, it's too early to tell how much carfentanil is being used in Harford, Kahler said.

"Our goal is to target the dealers. If we can make headway on a dealer that is in this community or a dealer coming into the community, we want to make sure we don't compromise that investigation or any leads that might be coming," Kahler said. "Our goal is to get the dealer out of the community."

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