Experts fear Fentanyl slipping into drugs 'under the radar' - as at least 70 types found in UK

19 September 2023, 10:02 | Updated: 19 September 2023, 10:39

At least 70 versions of Fentanyl have now been detected in the UK
At least 70 versions of Fentanyl have now been detected in the UK. Picture: Getty/LBC
Lillie Almond

By Lillie Almond

At least 70 versions of the synthetic opioid, Fentanyl, have now been detected in the UK, a former Government drug advisor has told LBC.

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Professor David Nutt says the substance, which has played a part in the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans, is here and "not going anywhere".

Highly addictive and at least 50 times more potent than heroin, Fentanyl has fuelled one of America's worst ever drug crises in recent years.

In 2021 alone, more than 70,000 people died there after taking the synthetic opioid.

“Fentanyl is a chemical series which goes from Fentanyl, which is about 50 times more potent than heroin- to Carfentalynl which is about 5,000 times more potent," Professor Nutt told LBC.

"Some of the Fentanyls are so potent that it’s impossible to weigh out a safe amount.”


While deaths related to drugs remain much lower in the UK than in America, there are alarm bells among some experts that it could be behind a rise in calls to rehab groups.

UK Addiction Treatment Centres has told LBC that calls from people worried about being dependant on unknown substances have doubled in the last year to around 10 per day.

It comes as rehab charity The Forward Trust said that Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are slipping into drug supply chains under the radar.

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The Trust said this makes it all the more alarming that the UK has seen a spike in people taking unidentified substances.

Recovering addict Matt Thomas now works for numerous support and rehabilitation organisations including the Forward Trust, and has experience of this.

“I certainly remember buying things and being told by the person, ‘It’s got a little bit of this and a little bit of that,' and I was like, ‘Oh brilliant, I’m sure he’s talking absolute nonsense, but I’m gonna take it anyway'" he said.

The Home Office has said it saw close to 18,000 seizures of unknown substances over the last year - which is a 13% rise on the year before.

A spokesperson said: "Where a drug is described as ‘unknown’ or ‘drug not known’, this generally means that police or Border Force have seized substances which they cannot easily identify."

In 2021 alone, more than 70,000 people died there after taking the synthetic opioid in the United States
In 2021 alone, more than 70,000 people died there after taking the synthetic opioid in the United States. Picture: Getty

When hearing these figures, Matt said: “It frightens me, and it makes me feel very sad, but it doesn’t surprise me - and I think, as much as is being seized, you can probably multiply by a hundred, what’s actually coming in.

“My personal belief is that the way to deal with it, is by tackling why people want it in the first place.

“I knew, when I was buying pills off someone on the street or later on, buying stuff off someone on the internet, I didn’t have any control of what was in it.”

Matt, who used to work in the music industry, revealed how he saw some substances being handled, sold and used - and about how they’re transported inside peoples’ bodies to the UK.

“One of the worst things about addiction is the low self-esteem - and the fact that people in active addiction tend to think that no-one cares about them, tend to think that they’re a lost cause and tend to buy into this stigma that society has created, that they’re not worth saving," he said.

Now heavily involved with a ‘Taking Action on Addiction Campaign’, Matt works to change stigmas, sharing messages such as, “You are worth saving, you are worth getting into recovery. Everybody deserves a chance of recovery, no matter what their background is.”

Similarly, Professor Nutt says that stigma around drug use is unhelpful, adding: “If people are going to take drugs of unknown provenance, it’s a lot more sensible they take them in places where people who know about drugs can help them reverse an accidental overdose.

“And that is the huge problem with the Fentanyls - you don’t know if they’re in the drug you’re taking - you have no idea. And even the people that sell them have no idea how much is in them. There is no safe dose.

“That’s why overdose prevention centres (which is what we’re calling safe injecting rooms now), they’re an absolute priority, they've saved hundreds of lives in Sydney and Vancouver and they should be made available here.”

If you were affected by anything in this piece, you can reach https://www.forwardtrust.org.uk/ or https://www.drugscience.org.uk/

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