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Heroin users warned to be vigilant

July 12 2017
There are fears that fentanyl is endangering lives in the UK

Drug users have been warned to be “vigilant” in response to increased deaths thought to be caused by heroin laced with fentanyl.

The drug is known as “serial killer” in the United States because it can be so deadly. Now there are fears it is also endangering lives in the UK.

The warning was issued by Public Health England in April following a spate of deaths in Yorkshire, Humberside and Cleveland that were believed to be linked to the drug. It can be up to 100 times stronger than street heroin.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) issued warnings for users – and dealers – to exercise “extreme caution”. The agency believes that the drug, which has been responsible for hundreds of deaths in the US, may now be being used to cut heroin across the UK.

Tony Saggers, head of drugs threat and intelligence at the NCA, said: “We have taken the unusual step of appealing to people to be vigilant. We are aware there has been an increase in drug deaths this year in the UK, primarily linked to heroin use.

“Fentanyl can be problematic to identify in post-mortem toxicology, but we have noticed an increase in the drug in forensic testing of street heroin,” he added.

"Heroin users need to be aware that the amount of fentanyl in a £10 bag of heroin need only be 1/50th of the total quantity (about two milligrams) to be a lethal dose."

The painkiller hit the headlines after it was linked to the death of legendary musician Prince last year. Though its use was considered to be rare in the UK, local police forces in the North of England started to raise the alarm back in February.

The NCA is now working closely with the police to assess the risks in more detail. It appealed for any concerned users to seek medical help from the NHS or support services.

It also highlighted the higher sentences for dealers, as adding toxic agents to drugs is considered to be an “aggravating” circumstance.


What is fentanyl?

•  Fentanyl is an extremely strong painkiller, prescribed for severe chronic pain which does not respond to regular painkillers
•  It is an opioid painkiller which means it works by mimicking the body's natural painkillers, called endorphins
•  Symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include slow and difficult breathing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and increased blood pressure