An urgent joint warning has been issued by the Queensland Police Service, Australian Border Force (ABF) and Queensland Health after Carfentanyl, a highly toxic substance believed to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine, was intercepted at a Brisbane mail centre.
The drug is a more potent version of fentanyl, a painkiller that made headlines for causing the overdose of musician Prince.
According to Dr Adam Griffin of the Clinical Forensic Medicine Unit, micrograms of the synthetic opiate, which is commonly used as a tranquiliser for large animals such as elephants, can kill.
"The actual substance itself may impair somebody's breathing and stop it completely," he said.
"[They may] lose consciousness, lose blood pressure completely and die shortly after injection or ingestion of the substance."
Griffin added that the drug had already caused thousands of deaths worldwide in the last two years, causing a spike in the number of opiate deaths internationally.
"[It is] not able to be differentiated easily in any way except through scientific methodology, which makes it easy to hide in other substances such as heroin.
"Users are being told it's MDMA or ecstasy or other substances simply because its available in such small quantities and cheap to purchase by drug sellers."
Carfentanyl is reportedly dangerous to even touch, making the welfare of first responders a top priority for ABF's Terry Price and Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker from the Drug and Serious Crime Group.
Writing for The Huffington Post last year, Dr Deni Carise, a recognised expert in addiction treatment, noted that the potent opioid was both odourless and colourless, and could be absorbed through skin contact, inhalation, oral exposure, or ingestion, which may lead to an accidental drug poisoning.
While the drug has been previously reported in the United States, it has only recently been detected in Australia, with only one prior detection made by the ABF in Sydney last December.
Wacker highlighted that it was unusual for the police to approach the media halfway through an investigation, however, due to the potency of the drug decided that it was in the community's best interest to raise the alarm.
"It is unclear how it would be marketed here, whether sold in its pure form or mixed with other drugs and sold as the latest 'hook'," Wacker said.
"Make no mistake, these are not party drugs. These are dangerous drugs and it's not a matter of if it will kill you. This drug will kill you."
While the ABF's Terry Price was unable to give any details about the detection of the substance due to the active investigation, he expressed protecting the community was a top priority.
"[The] synthetic drug market is quite large and growing and I think it is a supply and demand driven enterprise clearly driven by money and the amount of money that can be made without a thought of what it can do to our communities," he said.
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