We are seeing increasing drug activities with the synthetic opioid Fentanyl in Europe. There is now an initiative recently started by the Trimbos Institute, funded by the European Union, on preparedness to Synthetic Opioids (SO) threats, called SO-PREP.
According to their website, the SO-PREP project was formed to gain a better insight and understanding of the current use and trends of SO and related health needs in Europe, in order to help strengthen Europe’s health system SO preparedness. Their objective is to develop an evidence-based toolkit with implementation guides outlining good practices for monitoring and responses.
The project was formed because of the growing concerns about the sharp increase in the availability of ‘new’ illicit substances, such as new Synthetic Opioids, that authorities have been seeing throughout the global drug market, including North America. SO-PREP reports that:
From 2013 to 2014, a significant increase (79%) in deaths due to synthetic opioids was reported in the EU. This was followed by another increase (72%) of deaths from 2014 to 2015. The most recent data shows an increase in SO prevalence and incidents across Europe, such as in Estonia, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, the UK, and the Netherlands. As the number of SO related overdoses and overdose deaths are growing, SO are becoming a major public health threat in Europe.
Last year’s European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction drug report noted that one in every five of those entering drug treatment for an opioid-related problem now reports a synthetic opioid, rather than heroin, as their main problem drug; and these drugs are becoming more commonly detected in drug overdose cases. The report mentions that around 50 new synthetic opioids have been reported to the EU Early Warning System on new psychoactive substances, many of which have been linked to severe poisonings and deaths. They note that some, like carfentanil, are extremely potent, meaning that they can be trafficked in very small quantities, which are difficult to detect but can equate to many thousands of user doses.
Although playing a small role in Europe’s drug market, new opioids pose a serious threat to individual and public health. Of particular concern are fentanyl derivatives, which make up the majority of new opioids reported to the EMCDDA. These substances can be particularly potent, with minute quantities capable of causing life-threatening poisoning from rapid and severe respiratory depression.
Reported overdose cases include people who believed they were buying heroin, other illicit drugs or pain medicines. In addition to the acute risks of overdose, where the use of naloxone may be indicated, fentanyl derivatives are also reported to have high abuse liabilities and dependence-producing potential.
We previously wrote about this epidemic and how fentanyl was considered the deadliest drug in America. Because fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent and is finding its way into the illegal narcotics, there has been an explosion of fentanyl-related deaths. However, even police officers and their canine partners can become sickened if they are exposed to fentanyl when they encounter situations where the then unknown substances spills and become airborne, when packages are opened and the puff of the material is released, or even when specially trained police dogs are sniffing around contaminated areas and then carry the deadly drug on their fur and back to the officers.
Because of these drug-related occurrences, and many more like them, police departments around the world are investing in the latest narcotics analysis technology to identify unknown substances in the field and protect their officers from being harmed. These tools — which utilize the well-established analytical technique called Raman spectroscopy — are used to identify key drugs of abuse as well as common cutting agents, precursors and emerging threats such as fentanyl, numerous fentanyl compounds including carfentanil, common street fentanyl analogs, pharmaceutical variants as well as the fentanyl precursors, NPP and ANPP.
Using this technology, one can scan directly through plastic or glass for most samples to minimize contamination, reduce exposure and preserve evidence. An officer can scan a sample and receive the result within seconds. (You can read about these and other reasons how handheld Raman analyzer strengthens law enforcement for narcotics identification here.)
These handheld narcotics analyzers offer a presumptive test that is more accurate and reliable than colorimetric drug tests, providing law enforcement officials a quicker and safer method to identify suspected narcotics in the field.
SO-PREP aims to provide an analysis of factors that contributed to the synthetic opioid crisis in North America and to identify lessons learned that may be helpful in preventing a potential synthetic opioid crisis in Europe so they can avoid having Fentanyl being the deadliest drug in Europe.
These lessons learned combined with the newest drug identification technology could help save lives on any continent.
Visit the Safety and Security Threat Detection section of the Thermo Fisher Scientific website.