Sixty people have died in Britain in just eight months after taking the potent painkiller fentanyl, the National Crime Agency revealed today.
The cheap and powerful opiate is 50 times stronger than heroin and is being mixed with illegal drugs by dealers as a way of increasing profits.
The worrying figure came as the mother of a teenager who died after unknowingly taking the drug spoke out.
In November last year teenager Robert Fraser died after unknowingly taking fentanyl.
His mother has now spoken out about his death that happened just after his 18th birthday.
Michelle Fraser, from Deal in Kent, told Channel 5 news that Robert had gone to a dealer to buy some cannabis and was given the wrapped ‘packet of ‘white powder’ to try.
WHAT IS FETANYL?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic, originally created for surgery recovery and treatment of short term pain.
It is similar to morphine, but is 50-100 times more potent.
Although fentanyl is abused as a substance in its own right, it is more commonly detected as an additive in heroin.
In recent years it has grown in prevalence across North America and Europe and now appears to have entered the UK heroin market.
‘He was poisoned and he was taken away from everyone and everything that he loved.
‘I wish I could’ve just told him.”
The National Crime Agency said the drug was not prevalent in the UK until it emerged as a heroin cutting agent in north east England in late 2016.
It has been a prevalent problem in the US since about 2013 and gained international notoriety when it was revealed it had played a part in the death of pop star Prince in April.
Fentanyl has been a common painkiller in hospitals for decades. But an illegal version of the drug has caused so many deaths in the US since 2013 that it has been described as a ‘weapon of mass destruction’.
It is now also becoming a widespread problem on the streets of Britain, claiming the lives of drug users, particularly heroin users, unaware of its potency.
A bit of fentanyl the size of just a few grains of sugar can kill and since March it has been discovered on the bodies of 46 dead people.
Last month Home Secretary Amber Rudd was told that the ‘recent and increasing appearance’ of the opiate in deaths is a serious cause for concern.
The National Crime Agency has said it is working closely with the police to assess the full extent of the risk fentanyl poses to heroin addicts in particular.
In July Tony Saggers, Head of Drugs Threat and Intelligence at the NCA, said: ‘We are aware there has been an increase in drug deaths this year in the UK, primarily linked to heroin use.
Although this spike has been in the Humber, Yorkshire and North East of England region, it is too early to say to what extent fentanyl was a contributing factor.
‘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.
‘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 2 milligrams) to be a lethal dose.’