Elephant Tranquilizer Additives Causing Overdoses, Risk for First Responders

Adding to the growing list of drugs causing overdoses in the United States - if you can believe it - is elephant tranquilizer.

It's the latest substance to catch the eye of authorities nationwide. Even Wisconsin's Attorney General commented on the situation this week saying investigators may soon confirm the first instance of it in the state.

The drug, also known as carfentanil, is not only extremely dangerous for users but also for first responders who might come in contact with it, according to a fact sheet from the DEA.

Bell Ambulance has been responding to more overdoses this year than others and has added carfentanil education to training, Scott Mickelsen, deputy operations director of Bell Ambulance, said.

"In a case like this we'll let them know that it may be surfacing in the area. I believe the attorney general said they have one suspected case of it," Mickelsen said.

"You know, carfentanil really only has one use and that's as an elephant tranquilizer, believe it or not. And it's exponentially more powerful than fentanyl," Mickelsen said.

In fact, the DEA reports its so dangerous that even police officers or EMTs touching the stuff face risks.

Depending on the drug's form its possible carfentanil can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Symptoms can show within minutes of exposure.

Knowing that a fatal dose of the carfentanil looks like a few grains of sand - it's possible the first responder would need treatment for an overdose.

At Bell Ambulance crews are instructed to always wear gloves and, in certain situations, masks and eye protection.

Mickelsen says, however, that the majority of overdose situations aren't risky.

"Most of the opiate overdoses we deal with are actually elderly. People forget to take their fentanyl patches off and keep putting new ones on," Mickelsen said.

While Milwaukee has seen no cases of carfentanil, on Tuesday Chicago prosecutors filed their first case related to the drug. In that case a man is accused of mixing the elephant tranquilizer with heroin before selling it off.


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