Update: Dangerous drug used to tranquilize elephants blamed in 5 overdose deaths

The drug is 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

A dangerous, ultra-potent drug that's used to tranquilize elephants and other large animals has made its way to Minnesota.

State officials are warning people about the drug, called carfentanil, after recent toxicology reports confirmed a 43-year-old woman who died on Feb. 14 overdosed on the drug, the Faribault Police Department said Thursday. This marked the fifth overdose death from carfentanil in Minnesota recently, including three in Minneapolis and one in Apple Valley, officials said at a news conference Thursday.

Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that's 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl, and is often disguised as heroin or another opioid – so people who take it may not know it's carfentanil.

This has law enforcement agencies in Minnesota and across the country worried because the strength of carfentanil could lead to an increase in overdoses and overdose deaths, even among people who are tolerant to opioids, the Faribault Police Department says.

"Deadly carfentanil in Minnesota is extremely concerning for public safety and we urge citizens to contact law enforcement if someone has come in contact with this substance. We are working together with other law enforcement leaders, the Violent Crimes Coordinating Council, the Department of Public Safety, and DEA to get the message out across the state of Minnesota," Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen said in a release.

It takes a minuscule amount to tranquilize an elephant

Carfentanil comes in several forms, including powder, blotter paper, tablets, patch, and spray. It can also be absorbed through the skin or accidentally inhaled, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The drug is so potent, that it only takes a very small amount – think a few grains of salt – to tranquilize an elephant, with officials noting the drug cannot be diluted enough to be safe for human consumption.

This poses a risk to not only drug users, but to people who may become exposed to the drug, like first responders, doctors, and people who work in labs, the DEA said in a warning about the drug last fall that urges first responders to take proper precautions when around opioids.

National Public Radio looked into the spread of carfentanil in the U.S. earlier this month, saying the drug was never intended for human consumption so there's very little information out there about its effects on humans. Instead, officials are finding out about the drug through first responders' experiences with people who take the drug.

The Faribault Police Department is also encouraging people who know anyone who uses opioids to pick up a Naloxone prescription from their pharmacy. Naloxone can reverse an overdose of carfentanil and other opioids, depending on how much of the drug the person took.

Opioid-related overdoses in Minnesota

Opioids like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin are being prescribed more often than they used to, and that’s contributed to the rise in the number of overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. People are getting addicted to these prescription painkillers, and then some are turning to street opioids like heroin to get their fix.

In fact, more than 45 percent of people who used heroin were also hooked on prescription painkillers, the CDC says. This prompted the agency to issue new recommendations for doctors when considering prescribing opioids to people with chronic pain, including only prescribing the smallest effective dose and monitoring patients who use them.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows there were 572 drug overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2015 – that was up 11 percent from 2014, when there were 516. More than half of the deaths were due to prescription medications rather than street drugs.

Getting help

There are resources within Minnesota and the U.S. to get help if you’re struggling with addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a website that shows residential, outpatient and hospital inpatient treatment program locations. And the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) also offers help, and can connect people with resources nearby.

The National Institute of Health has more options here, as well as a guide of what to do if a friend or loved one has a substance abuse problem.

Next Up


Judge orders Minnesota gym that defied shutdown to close

Attorney General Keith Ellison sued the gym after it remained open.

montana cutbank

Charges: Man shot victim 'without provocation' using sawed-off shotgun

The incident happened on Nov. 24 in Ten Lake Township, located in Beltrami County.

Governor Tim Walz

Watch live: Walz, first responders address Minnesotans

Some departments have been forced to shift staffing or suspend service due to COVID-19.

covid-19, coronavirus

CDC says COVID-19 quarantine period can be cut to 10 or 7 days

You can come out of a 7-day quarantine following exposure provided you've had a negative test.

maple grove fire

1 person found dead inside Maple Grove business that burned down

A person had been unaccounted following the fire that destroyed Hanson Implement and Storage Tuesday night.

One-dollar bill, cash, money

Appeals court rules MN high school students can get unemployment benefits

They've been denied the benefits, and some were even asked to pay them back.

covid-19, coronavirus

Dec. 2 COVID-19 update: 77 more deaths in Minnesota

The death toll is closing in on 3,700 in Minnesota.

City Pages

Fan creates City Pages archive, Star Tribune tells him to remove it

After word spread that the defunct newspaper's website would go down, a fan created his own copy. Then he got a cease and desist letter.

Adam Thielen

Vikings activate Adam Thielen off COVID-19/reserve list

The star receiver missed last week's victory over Carolina.

Screen Shot 2020-12-02 at 10.27.14 AM

Naked man shot by St. Paul cop is charged for sexual assault of ex-girlfriend

The 31-year-old suspect remains at Regions Hospital after being shot.

Lindsay Whalen

Whalen's Gophers start season with only 7 players available

Whalen isn't happy that a transfer wasn't granted immediate eligibility to play.


Update: 11th person fatally overdoses on elephant tranquilizer

Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.

Police: 3 possible drug overdoses at Mall of America

Police say they aren't sure if these were related to the six heroin overdoses in Anoka County on Saturday.


Drug overdose deaths increased by 20 percent last year after declining in 2018

Preliminary data show a substantial increase in overdose deaths, especially among synthetic opioids and psychostimulant drugs.

Eden Prairie police save man's life with overdose reversal drug

The man was found on the ground, unconscious, and having trouble breathing.

MN officials bust 'sophisticated' international sex trafficking ring

Investigators found the operation was based in California, but there were also branches in Minnesota.

6 people arrested in connection to recent spike in synthetic marijuana overdoses

More than 100 people overdosed in Minneapolis in a three-week span.