The National Crime Agency repeats warning to be vigilant after synthetic opioid found in toxicology tests of 60 who died.
The Guardian newspaper reports:
At least 60 drugs deaths in the UK in the past eight months have been linked to fentanyl, an opioid that is being mixed with street heroin to make it more potent.
Releasing the figures, the National Crime Agency repeated its warning to drug users, their friends and families to be vigilant, recommending they read guidance issued by Public Health England so they could “protect themselves and their loved ones”.
The body said that since December 2016 postmortem toxicology results indicated that 60 people who had died from drug overdoses had fentanyl or a related substance in their system. A further 70 suspected cases were yet to be tested.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is up to 100 times stronger than heroin and is sometimes prescribed as a painkiller for the terminally ill. Its analogue carfentanyl is 10,000 times stronger and is used as an elephant tranquilliser.
On Tuesday police charged 25-year-old Kyle Enos from Newport, south Wales, with importing, supplying and exporting class A drugs after officers identified him using the dark web to purchase fentanyl.
His arrest follows that of three men in April after a drug-mixing facility in Morley, Leeds, was raided. All were charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
“The threat of synthetic opioids is not new,” said Ian Cruxton, deputy director of the NCA. “However, since December 2016, we have seen a number of drug-related deaths linked to fentanyl and carfentanyl.”
“The NCA has been working with partners, both in the UK and overseas, to take action against those drug dealers who are playing Russian roulette with the lives of their customers by mixing synthetic opioids with heroin and other class A drugs.”
n the US, fentanyl is one of the drugs blamed for the rapid rise in overdose deaths and widespread opioid addiction. It came to international attention in June, when it was found that the singer Prince died after overdosing on it.
The majority of drug overdoses in the UK thought to have involved fentanyl and carfentanyl are in the Yorkshire and the Humber region. “We have been working with drug testing labs and local drug services to get more information on confirmed and suspected cases,” said Pete Burkinshaw, alcohol and drug treatment and recovery lead at Public Health England.
“We do not have a full picture, but the deaths in Yorkshire do appear to have peaked earlier in the year and fallen since our national alert and, encouragingly, our investigations in other parts of the country suggest we are not seeing the feared sharp increase in overdoses.”
DS Patrick Twiggs of West Yorkshire police said fentanyl and its analogues had come to the force’s attention about six months ago.
“We started to see an increase in apparent drugs deaths and, when the toxicology results were carried out, we weren’t finding the normal levels of heroin that we usually would in those deaths, so toxicologists started to extend their searches and look for other potential causes. [They then] happened on the group of fentanyls.”
Speaking to the media on behalf of police forces across Yorkshire, the Humber and Cleveland, he said the substance had been found in 50 deaths across the region and that another 73 possible cases were awaiting testing.
“The drug can be manufactured by anyone with a modicum of chemical knowledge and the necessary equipment, but the main supply route is coming through the dark web, principally from China and Hong Kong,” he said.
He said police forces were working with other agencies to ensure that paramedics had a sufficient supply of naloxone, which acts as an antidote in cases of opioid overdose, and training frontline police in how to use it.
“Sadly we feel this is a drug that is going to be here to stay,” said Twiggs. “Whilst we will do everything we can to stem the flow of this and supply into communities, because of its availability on the dark web, it’s something that is very difficult to control and it is freely available.”