While police nationwide have their hands full with the growing epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse, local police officials say they're also keeping an eye out for a very powerful synthetic opioid derived from fentanyl, known as carfentanil. 

“It’s fentanyl on steroids,” said Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard.

Law enforcement in parts of the country have been finding batches of heroin or imitation prescription opioids that tested positive for carfentanil, especially this past year. Local officials said they haven't found carfentanil in Steuben County, but are mindful it could be out there. 

Carfentanil is severely toxic to humans -- about 5,000 times more powerful than heroin, and 10,000 times more-so than morphine. A piece the size of a grain of salt can be fatal, and the drug can also be absorbed through the skin.

“It’s very bad. A minute amount can kill you,” said Bath Police Chief Chad Mullen. “We ended up buying gloves for (officers) to wear in case they’re searching a vehicle or something.”

Police said there's a chance carfentanil-laced drugs could have made their way into Steuben County by now. However, they don’t know for certain yet because local departments currently lack the necessary field tests, nor has anything shown up during investigations for the moment.

“The trouble is we don’t know, because we don’t have tests for it yet,” Allard said. “So we send it back to the lab and wait.”

“Nothing’s come up (in tests, autopsies) yet,” Mullen said. "But I’m sure it’s around.”

Carfentanil is not approved for human consumption, but used by veterinarians donning protective gear for sedating large animals such as elephants. 

The possibility of carfentanil-laced drugs or residue lying around during routine investigations has prompted the Bath Police Department to be extra cautious, Mullen said.

“I gave my officers the briefing basically telling them, if it’s heroin, we’re not going to test it; we’re going to send it to the lab, let them test it. Because of possible carfentanil,” he said.

Police advise residents to avoid touching anything they find that appears to be heroin or other illicit opioid substances, and report it to their local police department or the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office.