A warning about the risks of painkiller abuse has come from an unlikely source – the Channel Island of Guernsey, where levels of heroin abuse are among the lowest in the British Isles.
Ed Freestone, Guernsey’s Chief Pharmacist, has advised medics to restrict the prescription of Fentanyl, a powerful opiate painkiller that is 50 times more powerful than morphine, as it is being used by drug addicts as a substitute for heroin.
High prescription rates
Freestone told the BBC that Guernsey prescribes very high rates of Fentanyl and, following discussions with the police, it has become clear that Fentanyl is the main source of opiates on the island. He advised medics on the island to review their choices of painkillers as there are alternatives.
Mr Freestone said: “We have a very heroin-free island so obviously therefore this was becoming the main source for opium addicts to get their highs.
Risks of Fentanyl
Although Fentanyl is useful as a painkiller for chronic pain, for example after a cancer operation, there are serious risks. Andrea Nightingale, Guernsey’s Drug and Alcohol Strategy Coordinator, says “Fentanyl could be lethal when mixed with alcohol or taken in high doses, and could cause people’s organs to shut down.”
Fentanyl epidemic in Europe
On the other side of Europe, Fentanyl is considered the main culprit in a drugs epidemic that has resulted in Estonia having the highest rate of deaths by overdose in Europe. According to this report, “Fentanyl is a synthetic form of heroin, produced in clandestine laboratories across the border in Russia. It has almost completely replaced heroin on the Estonian market, and is much more deadly.”
According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, “Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies their potency and potential dangers. Effects include euphoria, drowsiness/respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, and addiction.”
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