By Gary Close
Special to the Culpeper Times
Just as he began the interview Monday morning Captain Nick White of the Culpeper County Sheriff’s office took a call from his cell phone. Another young man in the county was found unconscious and not breathing. A few minutes later a text followed: the man had been revived.
“It doesn’t seem to stop,” White said shaking his head. He was referring to the subject of the interview, the rash of heroin overdoses seen in Culpeper and surrounding counties. “We don’t know if he was an overdose this early on,” White quickly said, but the likelihood of it being anything else was remote. The epidemic is that widespread.
Last year alone Culpeper County experienced 36 known heroin overdoses. Only three months into the year and already the county has racked up another known eight overdoses. The Town of Culpeper is much the same. Between January 1, 2017 and March 7, 2017 there were nine overdoses and one death from heroin in the town limits.
Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins is all too aware of the costs associated with the influx of a new and stronger heroin mix in the county and town.
“It is terrible to see what this is doing to families,” he said. “But I’m not sure most people have any idea the impact it is having here.”
Jenkins and White both point to the newest heroin mixture as even more deadly than the previous manifestations of heroin and fentanyl seen in Culpeper.
“Fentanyl will kill you,” Captain White explained. “But carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.” And, as counterintuitive as it may seem, according to Captain White, it is that stronger mixture that attracts addicts.
The drug is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Just an amount equal to two grains of salt will kill. In addition, according to Captain White, the more lethal drug is indistinguishable from heroin powder.
“So addicts don’t really know what they are shooting up,” Captain White said. The danger is that an addict may think he is using a drug with a lower potency and overdose accidentally.
Not only does the Carfentanil create a more deadly mix for users but it also poses a fatal hazard for officers and their dogs on drug intervention investigations.
Just touching the Carfentanil or fentanyl with bare skin will kill.
“We now have our officers ‘glove up’ when searching for drugs,” Captain White said.
Drug sniffing dogs, which cannot, as it were, ‘glove up’ their noses, are left to the whims of chance. It is a danger K-9 officers like Derek Emmel are well aware of but know it is a hazard of the job. Deputies carry an antidote for the drug hoping they never have to use it but knowing it is there if necessary for themselves or for an addict.
It all comes at a cost. Dogs die. And, dogs are expensive. The Culpeper Sheriff’s Office has not lost a drug dog yet but other jurisdictions in Virginia have lost their dogs to fentanyl. A dog with all the necessary training is worth about $18,000, according to Captain White. Watching a drug dog work is to see pure concentrated effort. There is no half measure so the threat of two tiny grains of salt wafting in the air is a very real and present danger each time the dog sniffs about a car.
“It’s necessary,” Sheriff Jenkins said of exposing dogs and officers to the threat of fentanyl and carfentanil, “but I don’t like it.”
“I want the citizens of Culpeper to know that these drugs are on the streets and that they should protect themselves, their families and their friends from the danger. No one is immune,” he said.
Gary Close is a freelance journalist, teacher and works in public relations for the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office. You may reach him at email@example.com
Heroin Overdoses Culpeper County as of March 10, 2017
2017 8 1 death
2016 36 4 deaths
2015 8 1 death
2014 17 4 deaths
2013 13 4 deaths
2012 3 0 deaths
(These figures do not include the Town of Culpeper statistics)
What is carfentanil?
A dangerous new factor in the U.S. opioid crisis Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid approximately 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. The presence of carfentanil in illicit U.S. drug markets is cause for concern, as the relative strength of this drug could lead to an increase in overdoses and overdose-related deaths, even among opioid-tolerant users. The presence of carfentanil poses a significant threat to first responders and law enforcement personnel who may come in contact with this substance. In any situation where any fentanyl-related substance, such as carfentanil, might be present, law enforcement should carefully follow safety protocols to avoid accidental exposure.
Carfentanil and other fentanyl analogues present a serious risk to public safety, first responder, medical, treatment, and laboratory personnel. These substances can come in several forms, including powder, blotter paper, tablets, patch, and spray. Some forms can be absorbed through the skin or accidentally inhaled.
Remember that carfentanil can resemble powdered cocaine or heroin. If you suspect the presence of carfentanil or any synthetic opioid, do not take samples or otherwise disturb the substance, as this could lead to accidental exposure. Rather, secure the substance and follow approved transportation procedures. Lethality:
Carfentanil is used as a tranquilizing agent for elephants and other large mammals. The lethal dose range for carfentanil in humans is unknown; however, carfentanil is approximately 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which can be lethal at the 2- milligram range depending on route of administration and other factors.
Source: Drug Enforcement Agency