Powerful drug that sedates elephants, other zoo animals, found mixed in Akron heroin cases

Posted at 2:49 PM, Jul 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-14 18:05:47-04

An extremely powerful drug used to sedate elephants, rhinoceroses and zebras could be to blame for a huge spike in heroin overdoses throughout Akron and neighboring cities.

Akron Police Chief James Nice said carfentanil, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, has been linked to the fatal overdoses of a man on Copley Road and a woman in New Franklin.

"It's brand new. I learned about carfentanil maybe eight days ago, seven days ago. It wasn't on the radar. The carfentanil is being cut into the heroin," Nice said.

Since July 5, 91 overdoses have been reported in the city of Akron. Eight of those people died. Another person is on life support and is expected to pass away, according to the chief.

Akron police officers visited the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Akron Zoo to learn more about the drug, which was mostly unfamiliar to detectives.

The Akron Zoo does not use carfentanil, but police obtained a sample of the the drug from the Cleveland Zoo which has larger animals.

Dr. Kimberly Cook, director of animal health and conservation at the Akron Zoo, said carfentanil is an ultra potent opioid that is used an anesthetic for very large animals such as elephants or hoof stock. She also said it's 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

Cook explained veterinarians who use the drug must take strict precautions.

"It's an incredibly dangerous drug," Cook said. "We're concerned that even a drop could get in an eye so we wear eye protection. We wear long sleeves. We wear gloves."

Major Kenneth Ball said the police department is putting "more resources in a short amount of time into the investigation" than any other situation that he can recall.

Ball said two people have been arrested in connection with some of the recent overdoses, but he would not release the names of the suspects or the charges they're facing out of concern that it would jeopardize the ongoing investigation.

Chief Nice said it's possible the carfentanil may be coming from China and those who have overdosed in Akron have either injected or snorted the drug.

Police are working to figure out the source or sources of the deadly drug, which the chief believes is acting like a "serial killer" in the Akron area.

"We haven't found a stash of carfentanil yet," Nice said.

Officers can only hope the number of overdose calls will diminish, but they fear more heroin users will lose their lives despite repeated warnings.

"In this city, people are dying every single day of heroin overdoses because it's not heroin. It's cut with a deadly killer," Nice said.