Law enforcement officials in a town about 25 miles south of Boston are warning residents to beware after authorities last week said three drug samples had tested positive for a drug that is about 100 times more powerful than the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.
"We are extremely concerned about the introduction of carfentanil in Massachusetts, which dramatically increases the chances that someone will die from a drug overdose," Whitman Fire Chief Timothy Grenno said in a statement released Sunday. "This is a substance so dangerous, that we've seen cases where first responders overdose from simply touching it."
According to Grenno and Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton, two of the drug samples that tested positive for carfentanil, a drug used to tranquilize large animals, were seized by Brockton Police and another was seized by transit police in the Quincy area.
The samples were tested in the State Police Crime Lab. Citing information from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Whitman officials said illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids can resemble powdered drugs such as heroin or cocaine and can be in pill or capsule form, "often represented as OcyContin, Xanax or other diverted pharmaceutical drugs."
"This is the first time we're seeing this lethal substance in Massachusetts, which signifies that this epidemic has taken a turn for the worse," Benton said. "Our number one priority is public safety and preventing the senseless loss of life due to overdose, and we will continue to strictly enforce drug laws in an effort to keep these deadly substances off our streets."
Carfentanil is even more deadly than fentanyl, which itself is responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths in Massachusetts. Department of Public Health statistics show more than 2,000 opioid-related deaths in 2016, 69 percent of which had a positive toxicology result for fentanyl.