Deaths caused by the drug fentanyl are on the rise in the UK, a report warns.
Deaths related to Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid considered to be 50 times more potent than heroin, rose from eight in 2008 to 135 in 2017, the report said.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said the government should introduce controls to tackle the “emerging threat” the painkiller poses.
The ACMD said a rise in the number of deaths in the UK is being driven by fentanyl being added to heroin.
The drug was originally designed as a painkiller but has entered the illegal drug market.
Synthetic opioids have been linked to thousands of US deaths. Its potency means that even small doses can be deadly.
The ACMD, which advises ministers on drugs policy, said fentanyl-related deaths have risen in the UK despite the fact it is an illegal Class A substance.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an extremely strong painkiller, prescribed for severe chronic pain, or breakthrough pain which does not respond to regular painkillers.
It is an opioid painkiller which means it works by mimicking the body’s natural painkillers, called endorphins, which block pain messages to the brain.
The risk of harm is higher if the wrong dose or strength is used.
Typical symptoms of a fentanyl overdose include slow and difficult breathing, nausea and vomiting, dizziness and increased blood pressure.
Dr Bowden-Jones said the introduction of fentanyl and other new opioid drugs into illegal UK markets was “of great concern”.
“To respond to this emerging threat, we must carefully examine the lessons learnt in other countries, particularly the US and Canada, to understand and implement effective interventions,” he added.
The advisory group urged ministers to commission further research into strong opioids.
The Home Office, which commissioned the ACMD report, said it would “carefully consider” the recommendations.
A spokesperson said the Home Office has commissioned a major review of all drugs policy in an attempt to reduce the harm they cause.