Drug That Killed Prince May Have Caused A Number Of UK Deaths
Dozens of toxicology reports have revealed that many drug-related deaths in the UK are linked to the substances fentanyl and carfentanyl.
The National Crime Agency reports that dealers are mixing the class A drugs with heroin, and the substances have been found in the bodies of up to 46 people who have died since March - although the exact cause of death remained uncertain.
American recording artist Prince was killed after overdosing on the drug in April 2016. Two months after his death, a medical examiner's report stated the singer died of 'decadent self-administered fentanyl'.
The reason as to why the two forms of fentanyl have made such a rise on the black market is as yet unclear, although the dark web and new suppliers trying to enter the market are being highlighted.
Harry Sumnall, a professor of substance use at the Public Health Institute at Liverpool John Moores University, said: "Whether it's so-called user dealers who are buying a local supply, or new actors trying to enter the market but at a much lower level than the established heroin gangs, we don't really know."
Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, can be prescribed as a painkiller in carefully measured doses. It's up to 100 times stronger than morphine, with carfentanyl up to 10,000 times stronger - often used as an elephant tranquiliser.
In April 2017, Humberside Police confirmed that two people in Hull had died as a result of mixing heroin and fentanyl, with Leeds Police, and South Yorkshire, also investigating 'strong heroin' related deaths.
Public Health England has warned that heroin users should be 'extra careful' when using the drug, and not to take it alone.
Canadian poster warning of the dangers of Fentanyl. Credit: Flickr/Jeff Anderson (Creative Commons)
Simon Hudson, a technical director at LGC, which tests biological samples from coroners for pathology labs, spoke of how easy it could be to not realise you're taking the opiates - with 20 micrograms of carfentanyl enough to kill someone.
Hudson said: "If you look at a grain of sugar, that is one or two milligrams, so 20 micrograms is a 50th of that.
"You wouldn't even be able to see that if it was on the desk in front of you. It would be like a speck of dust."
The fentanyl-related cases are yet to reach coroners' courts, meaning that there has been little public discussion of the impact of the drug.
Featured Image Credit: PA