One of the opioid painkillers causing a killer drug epidemic in the US has been linked to hundreds of deaths in Europe.
Fentanyl, which is fifty times stronger than heroin, is increasingly available and poses a major threat to public health, according to a new report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
It says the drug — gradually found and seized by police — has been associated with 250 deaths in Europe over the last two years.
Fentanyl is used to treat cancer pain but legal supplies are being diverted to the black market as a substitute for heroin, according to Europol.
Donald Trump has called the opioid abuse problem in the US a public health emergency: there were 20,145 overdose deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in 2016, according to official data.
“Fentanyls are exceptionally potent opioids which, although playing a small role in Europe’s drug market, pose a serious threat to individual and public health,” wrote the EMCDDA in its annual report.
“In part, this stems from the increased risk of severe and fatal poisonings in users — often manifesting as outbreaks — as fentanyls cause rapid and profound respiratory depression.
It is also because of the increased risk of accidental exposure resulting in poisoning in others; families and friends of users, as well as law enforcement, other emergency services, medical staff and those working in laboratories, may be at risk," it added.
“The use of protective equipment to reduce the risk of harm from accidental exposure may be necessary for some settings, such as customs facilities at Europe’s borders, where seizures of bulk fentanyl powders may be handled.
Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that fentanyls have been sold to unsuspecting users as established illicit drugs and fake pain medicines, potentially increasing the risk of severe and fatal poisoning in some user groups.”
The mortalities linked to fentanyl come as EMCDDA revealed drug overdose deaths in the EU, Norway and Turkey passed the 9,000 mark in 2016. Such deaths have been on the rise for the last four years, it added.
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