A European drug agency has warned the synthetic drugs fuelling the opioid crisis in the United States are becoming “a growing concern”.
A report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) suggests 11 new synthetic opioids were detected in Europe including six fentanyl derivatives.
Fentanyl - which is fifty times stronger than heroin - is estimated to be the cause of more than 19,000 opioid-related drug deaths in the U.S in 2016 - just under half of the total, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Although heroin remains the most commonly used illicit opioid on the drug market, one in five people receiving treatment for opioid addiction now report addiction to synthetic drugs.
The report said: “While these substances currently represent only a small share of the drug market in Europe, they are a growing concern, with use linked to poisonings and deaths.
“With only very small volumes needed to produce many thousands of street doses, these substances are easy to conceal and transport, representing a challenge for law enforcement and customs.”
The same EMCDDA report last year revealed there had been at least 250 deaths linked to fentanyl in Europe.
According to Europol, fentanyl is used to treat cancer pain but legal supplies are being diverted to the black market as a substitute for heroin.
EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel said: “The challenges we face in the drugs area continue to grow. Not only are there signs of increased availability of established plant-based drugs like cocaine, but we are also witnessing an evolving market where synthetic drugs and drug production within Europe are growing in importance.
“This can be seen in problems associated with the use of highly potent synthetic opioids, in new production techniques for MDMA and amphetamines, and in recent developments in the processing of morphine into heroin inside Europe’s borders.”