Scotland’s top forensic scientists are braced for a flood of a highly potent drug implicated in the deaths of 60 people across the UK in the last eight months.
The synthetic opioid Fentanyl, which caused the death of rock star Prince, is on the radar of Police Scotland after warnings from the National Crime Agency, Public Health England and frontline drugs workers in Glasgow who fear “contaminated heroin” could hit the streets.
This followed the arrest of three men in April after raids on a drug mixing facility in Morley, Leeds.
Dr Craig McKenzie, of the recently established Centre for Excellence in New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Research at the University of Dundee, said there’s “no reason” why it won’t come to Scotland.
McKenzie, a senior lecturer in forensic chemistry, said his team of scientists can make the drug in their laboratory and test it to see how it would present in a hospital setting if someone took it with other substances.
Their role is to support the police and Scottish Government by providing information that will help deal with the threat of emerging new psychoactive substances like Fentanyl.
McKenzie said: “If a drug user now buys heroin they wouldn’t be able to tell if it contains Fentanyl.
“It would contain a very small amount – because you don’t need much Fentanyl to have the same effect as the opiate in heroin – it would only need to be a couple of grains which would have the same effect as a much larger amount of heroin. It’s easier to transport a kilo of Fentanyl and if you’re adding only a couple of milligrams it would mean you could add it to a lot of heroin.
“It fluctuates, it’s probably more expensive than heroin per gram but it’s a lot more active.”
Fentanyl is a highly toxic synthetic opioid approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. As little as 0.002g (within a typical 0.1g heroin deal) is potentially fatal.
Det Chief Supt Sean Scott, Police Scotland national drugs co-ordinator, said: “Police Scotland is aware of the potential threat posed by the supply and consumption of Fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid categorised (along with its derivatives, including Carfentanyl) as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
“We work closely with partners including the National Crime Agency, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and law enforcement colleagues across the UK to ensure intelligence around the supply and consumption of Fentanyl nationally and locally.
“Officers within Police Scotland have been briefed as to the potential dangers posed by Fentanyl.”