CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson has issued a public health warning to the community about an increase in the amount of carfentanil that has been seized so far this year. 

The warning comes as Cuyahoga County comes off one of the deadliest months for drug overdose deaths in its history. Early toxicology tests show that there were 58 apparent drug overdose deaths in January, although it is too early to determine how many are carfentanil-related. 

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.

“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 in a statement. “Having another person in the vicinity to call 911 and/or administer naloxone can be life-saving.”

Experts had believed that the carfentanil problem was improving. Last month, the county's preliminary drug overdose statistics showed that there were just 24 carfentanil-related deaths in 2018, a significant reduction from the 191 carfentanil-related fatalities in 2017.