The United States opioid crisis continues, with 6 states and 4 tribal nations declaring public health emergencies to date. The usage of fentanyl has been covered frequently in the news because coming into contact with even trace amounts can cause a potentially fatal overdose. This issue caused the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to issue a warning to first responders on the dangers of fentanyl exposure. Those of you in the exotic animal industry are likely familiar with carfentanil, a 100 times more powerful analog of fentanyl used by veterinarians to anesthetize large mammals such as elephants and rhinos. Carfentanil has been discovered in opioids sold on the street for recreational use and has been implicated in human exposures and deaths. Veterinarians that have worked with this drug understand the risk, undergo training with regards to handling the drug and are careful to take the necessary precautions to prevent accidental exposure.
According to Wildlife Pharmaceuticals USA, the supplier for many of the anesthetic agents used by zoo and wildlife veterinarians, there is currently NO legal supply of carfentanil for the United States. In discussion with the Food and Drug Administration, Wildlife Pharmaceuticals voluntarily agreed to withdraw its FDA approval of carfentanil 19 July 2017 due to this potential for misuse.
Carfentanil overdoses have not come from diverted supply of this agent from zoos. The drug is likely coming into the US through Canada or Mexico from clandestine labs in China and elsewhere. Even though China has banned the export of carfentanil, smuggling is occurring.
Veterinarians that have worked with this drug understand the risk, undergo training with regards to handling the drug and are careful to take the necessary precautions to prevent accidental exposure. Unfortunately, as it becomes more prevalent on the street, there is a great risk of first responders and the general public being unknowingly exposed to cafentanil.