Tox Tuesday: Opioid abuse in the United Kingdom

August 15, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump declared the ongoing opioid crisis a national emergency last week, following the urging of his Commission on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which stated that about 142 Americans die daily of a drug overdose.

But while the U.S. might be dealing with the most severe opioid crisis in the world right now, The United Kingdom is also starting to see its own drug statistics creep upwards.

The U.K. has not only been seeing increases in cocaine purity in recent months — opioid usage is increasing as well, as well as other drugs. The synthetic opioid fentanyl has been of particular concern to many experts, having been linked to at least 60 overdose deaths in the past eight months, according to the National Crime Agency.

A batch of deaths blamed on fentanyl earlier this year has police in northern England on high alert. Police raids have led to arrests, but more drugs still seem to be hitting the streets. Fentanyl is around 50 times stronger than heroin. It is sometimes used to cut heroin supplies, as is carfentanil, an extremely potent elephant tranquilizer. Both drugs are often sourced from overseas.

“We’re not seeing people going out and seeking fentanyl,” said Rick Bradley, of U.K.-based drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction, in a recent article. “What we’re seeing, in the last six to 12 months in particular, is that people are maybe using substances where fentanyl is being inadvertently used.”

Solutions to the problem are hard to come by. In 2015, the overdose antidote naloxone was made available without a prescription for high risk individuals, so charities and other organizations have distributed many doses. While these kits can save lives, they can’t reverse addiction or stop deadly drugs from spreading in the first place. Authorities are preparing to do what they can to stop the problem from growing.

“We definitely need to be ready so that if it does get any worse, we’re prepared for that,” said Prun Bijral of the substance abuse nonprofit Change, Grow, Live. “That’s the opportunity we’ve got now while it’s at that stage it is. We’ve got to get everything ready just in case.”

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Category: Toxicology