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Lethal opioid delivery seized by Finnish customs

Finnish Customs said Tuesday that the agency had confiscated the highly dangerous drug carfentanil. Officials intercepted the potent opioid in the post and have warned that merely handling the narcotic could be lethal.

Tullin havainnekuva tappavasta määrästä karfentaniilia. Image: Tulli

Finnish Customs warned Tuesday that the extremely dangerous narcotic that it seized, carfentanil, is the strongest known opioid on record. The substance is said to be up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine and legally, it is used for veterinary purposes.

Customs enforcement director Hannu Sinkkonen stressed the extremely dangerous nature of the narcotic.

"Even handling the smallest amount of the substance could result in death. There is a significant health risk," he added.

Customs seized the narcotic during the early summer, when it was found in postal shipments. However the agency did not specify how many lots had been confiscated.

"At the moment we are talking about thousands of user doses impounded," he noted.

Carfentanil is a synthetic, laboratory-manufactured opioid and is a type of fentanyl. Because of its potency, there is no safe dosage for human use. A dose of just 0.03 milligrams is lethal for an adult. By contrast, a deadly dose of heroin would be 30 milligrams and a lethal dose of a fentanyl is about three milligrams – 1,000 times more powerful than morphine.

Legally, carfentanil is used for veterinary medicine, generally as a tranquilizer for very large animals.

Drug could make its way to Finnish streets

Sinkkonen said that it is likely that the drug may find its way into the illicit drug trade on Finnish streets.

"I think that is very realistic. Carfentanil has been sold in Europe as a narcotic substance. It is cheap and the user doses are very small. The trade is interesting because of the potential profits," Sinkkonen pointed out.

Customs officials noted that carfentanil is often trafficked online on the dark web, and often generates thousand-fold returns. The substance is sold illegally online as a powder and as a solution.

The customs enforcement chief said that there is a risk that carfentanil may also end up on the streets by accident.

"If someone orders the substance online, they may not necessarily know what they are getting. If you order something else, you could mistakenly get carfentanil," he remarked.

Carfentanil suppresses the central nervous system, which means it could lead to sudden death as a result of asphyxiation. The substance can also be inhaled and can be absorbed into the organs if it comes into contact with the skin.

It is not classified as a narcotic by the UN or in Finland, where it is considered a medicinal substance.  Officials have also seized carfentanil in other EU countries such as Sweden, Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the UK.