Carfentanil bust in Unity: ‘This is the stuff that kills everyone’ |

Carfentanil bust in Unity: ‘This is the stuff that kills everyone’

jeff himler
Members of a state police clandestine lab team wore protective suits as they assisted in the seizure of suspected carfentanil at an apartment on Whitney Court Drive earlier this year in Unity. (Trib photo)
Pennsylvania State Police
A package of suspected carfentanil that police seized in Unity on May 3. (Pennsylvania State Police photo)
Pennsylvania State Police
Investigators wore protective suits while they seized a package of suspected carfentanil in Unity on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.

The 5 grams of synthetic opioid state police seized this week in Unity was enough to produce the equivalent of 30,000 to 50,000 stamp bags of heroin, and drugs like it may already be responsible for two overdose deaths in West­more­land County, investigators said.

County detectives and state police on Wednesday seized a package of carfentanil, typically used as an elephant tranquilizer, shortly after it was delivered to an apartment on Whitney Court Drive.

According to a police report, the occupant of the apartment told troopers the package contained carfentanil, which can be combined with other ingredients, sold and injected like heroin. The occupant ordered the drugs online and paid with Bitcoins, a digital currency.

“Literally, a granule of this stuff gets mixed with a gallon of water and cutting agents … dried out then cooked,” said Trooper Steve Limani, a spokesman at the state police Greensburg barracks. “This is the stuff that kills everyone.”

Because the drug is so potent, state police used hazmat suits to handle and seize the suspected carfentanil, along with 136 marijuana plants, packaging material and an iPad.

Charges are pending.

Carfentanil can enter a person’s system through contact with the skin or mucus membranes, so police and laboratory workers should wear gloves at the very least and avoid disturbing any powder when dealing with it, said Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center. Even absorbing a tiny dose can cause sedation and reduced breathing within a few minutes, he said.

“We talk in terms of micrograms with fentanyl; this we think of in fractions of micrograms,” Lynch said.

Until recently, the drug was often made in China and exported, either directly via the online black market or through Mexico. But China banned carfentanil’s manufacture and export as of March 1. The drug could still be made and shipped illegally, Lynch said.

Five grams, the amount police said was seized, is equivalent to about a teaspoon of salt. Lynch said carfentanil is considered 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times as powerful as morphine. Drug dealers can use it to supplement diluted heroin or as a substitute for the drug completely.

“An amount equal to one or two grains of salt is enough to kill,” said Westmoreland County Chief Deputy Coroner John Swartz.

He said carfentanil was suspected in two fatal overdoses in March, though toxicology tests are still pending. Last year, there were two fatal carfentanil overdoses in Beaver County and another in Butler County. A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh indicted Reginald Davis of New Brighton on charges of distributing carfentanil in March.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office has not reported any carfentanil-related deaths, though the substance has turned up in tests of some stamp bags seized from crime scenes, officials said.

Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director at Gateway Rehab, said he’d seen an uptick in patients who thought their drugs had been spiked or replaced with fentanyl or carfentanil, and he blamed the increase in fatal overdoses on the growth of such synthetic opioids.

“People are scared. I’ve talked to a couple of people today who say they’re more determined than ever to stay in recovery because so many people have died,” Capretto said. “All signs indicate the future is going to bring more, not less, of these things because it’s all about making money.”

State police said the package seized in Unity had a shipping address of Naples, Fla., and would be investigated further. Limani said lab tests will confirm within a few days whether it was carfentanil.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6660, [email protected] or via Twitter @msantoni.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.