February 7, 2019

CLEVELAND – Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson, today issued a public health warning , stating the Cuyahoga County Regional Forensic Science Laboratory has seen a significant increase of seized carfentanil (powder and tablets) tested over the last month. Carfentnail, a synthetic opioid and large animal sedative, is extremely potent and unsafe for human use. Carfentanil is nearly impossible to detect by sight because it is often mixed with other drugs or disguised as prescription tablets.

Powder Carfentanil

Left: Carfentanil and Heroin mixture (2017). Middle: Carfentanil and Cocaine mixture (2018). Right: Carfentanil (2017). Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office

Additionally, early toxicology screen tests reveal last month was one of the deadliest months for drug overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County’s history (at least 58 apparent drug overdose deaths). With toxicology confirmation testing pending, it’s too early to determine how many of these deaths are carfentanil-related.

  • Toxicology Screen Test: A test used to look for the possible presence of a drug.
  • Toxicology Confirmation Test: A test performed prove or disprove the presence of a suspected drug.  This test can also determine how much of the drug is in the tested sample.

“The re-appearance of carfentanil in the local illicit drug supply is alarming. This is a very lethal drug and anyone using illicit or diverted drugs needs to be aware of the possibility of being exposed to it,” said Dr. Gilson. “Having another person in the vicinity to call 911 and/or administer naloxone can be life-saving.”


Blue tablets marked with “A 215”, purported to be Oxycodone, but contain carfentanil (2018).
Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office

Last month, The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office releasedpreliminary 2018 Drug Overdose Statistics, and indicated the county suffered 24 carfentanil-related deaths in 2018. This was a significant reduction from the 191 carfentanil-related deaths in 2017.

If you or anyone that you know is actively using or recovering from opioid addiction, contact Project DAWN for information at 216-778-5677. Eligible program participants, are given FREE Naloxone kits – the opioid reversing antidote.

Additionally, the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County provides a 24-hour crisis hotline at 216-623-6888.