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Pharmacists warned to look out for fentanyl-tainted heroin

Public Health England: Pharmacists can raise awareness while police investigation is ongoing
Public Health England: Pharmacists can raise awareness while police investigation is ongoing

Pharmacists have been asked to raise awareness of contaminated heroin after "several recent deaths" linked to the drug cut with synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanyl.

Public Health England issued a warning to all health services on Thursday (April 27) after the "deadly" synthetic opioids were detected in heroin supplies, as reported by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

A PHE spokesperson told C+D that if appropriate, community pharmacists should supply naloxone "for all those at risk" and refer users to local treatment services.

“Community pharmacists have an important role in raising awareness among heroin users using their services, of the very serious risks of the possible availability of heroin cut with fentanyls," the spokesperson added. 

Actions advised

Fentanyl, which is commonly used to treat severe chronic pain, is around 100-times stronger than morphine, according to the Central Alerting System (CAS) website – a Department of Health cascading system for issuing patient safety alerts.

Carfentanyl is 4,000-10,000-times more potent than morphine, and principally used as an animal tranquilliser, the CAS said.

It advised that healthcare professionals who come into contact with heroin users should "watch carefully for the signs of an overdose", including loss of consciousness, shallow or absent breathing, or blue lips or fingertips.

Health professionals who encounter an unusual or unexpected adverse reaction to the use of heroin should report it to PHE, it added.

Read the full CAS guidance for healthcare professionals here

Distributed across a wider area

The NCA claimed the contaminated heroin has caused “several recent deaths” in the Yorkshire, Humber and Cleveland areas. A joint operation with West Yorkshire Police has led the agency to believe the substances could have been distributed to drug dealers “across a much wider area”.

Tony Saggers, head of drugs threat and intelligence at the NCA, said it has “taken the unusual step of appealing to people to be vigilant".

How do you raise awareness of patient safety in your pharmacy?

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Why the hell should we be doing this??? Are we to go round all the dealers (isn't it funny how your staff always know who is a dealer and yet the police don't?) with a testing kit? Frankly if some smackhead takes something that doesn't agree with them I don't really give a toss. There is far too big a safety net for anyone who fancies a go with something illicit already without us adding another layer of cotton wool.

Gerry Diamond, Primary care pharmacist

What can users expect buying illicit substances. From experience we spend all our lives looking out for people whose lives are on the way to hell in a hand cart, pay your taxes and we end up worse off than them after working around the clock. I'll see where we can fit it in with evrything else. :-)

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Well said Gerry. A lot of us are sick and tired of looking out for people that have no interest in looking out for themselves. A sense of personal responsibilty should be a requirement before you receive tax-payer funded help.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Sure, I'll keep an eye on all the heroin that comes my way... maybe the subject will come up during an MUR?

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