Warning over deadly batch of heroin laced with elephant tranquilliser

Dr Michael McBride said heroin is being mixed with the highly potent synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanyl, which in very small amounts can kill
Andrew Madden

HEROIN laced with a powerful tranquilliser used on elephants has become available in Northern Ireland, chief medical officer Michael McBride has warned.

The revelation was contained in an urgent letter from the senior government official to GPs, nurses and other health-care workers.

He said the class-A drug is being mixed with the highly potent synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanyl, which in very small amounts can kill.

Fentanyl is about 100 times stronger than morphine and is used to treat severe and terminal pain.

Carfentanyl is between 4,000 and 10,000 times stronger than morphine and is mainly used to tranquillise large animals such as elephants.

“Those of you in contact with heroin users should be alert to the increased possibility of overdose arising from heroin cut with these synthetic opioids and be able to recognise possible symptoms of overdose and respond appropriately,” Dr McBride wrote.

The symptoms listed in the correspondence include loss of consciousness, shallow or absent breathing, snoring, and/or blue lips or fingertips.

The letter advises that heroin users should be advised to be “extra cautious about the sources from which they get their drugs, and about the drugs they take, maybe starting with just a quarter hit of a new supply”.

In January west Belfast man Timothy McIlroy was jailed for supplying prescription fentanyl patches to a friend who later died from an overdose. McIlroy was prescribed the drug for back pain.

Opioid overdoses are treated with an emergency injection of naloxone, the use of which by paramedics has doubled in the past two years.

A public meeting was held in Dunmurry, south-west Belfast, on Tuesday night to discuss the rise in the number of prescription drug-related deaths across the city.

The meeting was organised by families whose children have died from taking prescription drugs in recent months.

Gerry McConville from the Falls Community Council called for action to be taken to tackle the problem.

“In the past we’ve had legal highs, illegal drugs and at the moment the emphasis is on prescription drugs,” he said.

“So we need to get the message out loud and clear to young people that they don’t need to take these drugs and that there is help available.”

According to the Public Health Agency, there are 10 times as many deaths from prescription drug misuse in Northern Ireland than from cocaine misuse.

Last month police launched an investigation into the sudden deaths of five people in Belfast, all thought to be drug-related. Among them was a 16-year-old girl, Chloe Hutchings.

Speaking to The Irish News two weeks ago, Detective Inspector Andy Dunlop said a batch of 20,000 prescription tablets in parts of Belfast could be sold on in less than a day.


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