This small vial contains carfentanil extracted from a sample of blood.

(Courtesy Jake Harper/Side Effects Public Media)

A powerful synthetic opioid is surfacing in Colorado and alarming addiction treatment specialists already facing an unprecedented number of people addicted to opioids like heroin and fentanyl.

Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Last year, the agency put out a warning to the public and law enforcement about the risks of the drug which had been "linked to a number of overdose deaths in various parts of the country."

Carfentanil has been connected to two deaths in Colorado but experts say it's possible many more have died from unknowingly ingesting the drug. Because it's less expensive than other opioids, dealers can can make more money by cutting it into heroin. 

Carfentanil is manufactured in China and used there as a sedative for large animals like elephants, but in recent years it's begun making its way to the United States. 

Amy Lowe is director of outpatient services at Arapahoe House, the largest addiction treatment provider in Colorado. She speaks with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly noted the strength of carfentanil in relation to both fetanyl and heroin as attributed to the DEA. The original sentence stated that carfentanil is 50 times more potent than heroin. Instead, it is fentanyl that is 50 times more potent than heroin, and carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl. We regret the error.