Published: 00:01, 19 September 2017
Police and heroin users should carry an antidote to the drug to prevent more fatal overdoses, a University of Kent expert claims.
Prof Alex Stevens, who advises the Home Office on drug policy, argues the need for action is as pressing as ever after it emerged heroin in Canterbury is being cut with an elephant tranquilliser 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
Last month, a coroner heard how 22-year-old Frank Brown had died in the city in April after taking heroin mixed with carfentanil.
Sixty deaths across the UK this year have been linked to the synthetic opioid, with another 70 estimated cases yet to be tested, according to the National Crime Agency.
Prof Stevens advocates that police and even users are given an antidote called naloxone, which can be administered to someone suffering an overdose.
“Paramedics carry it with them, but often it’s the police who are the first ones at such a scene,” he said.
“Even users of it could be given instruction in how to use it.
“If heroin cut with carfentanil is appearing in the Canterbury drugs market then that is worrying.
“It is an incredibly dangerous substance and is virtually invisible in the heroin it is cut into, except for tiny white specks.
“Naloxone reverses the effect of an overdose of heroin. People die of heroin overdoses from suffocation because it suppresses their breathing.
“Lives could be saved using naloxone, which has no harmful effects and is simply a case of learning how to inject it.”
Prof Stevens, a criminal justice expert who is deputy head of the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, says the need to equip police officers with naloxone comes at a time when drug-related deaths are their highest in the UK, with many across Canterbury in recent years.
But he fears that if it becomes widely known that heroin cut with carfentanil is available users may gravitate towards the more potent variety.
“There is a risk of publicising its presence,” he said.
“There are, after all, people looking for powerful drugs and the kick they get out of them.
“If carfentanil is present then the health authorities and the police need to do something about it.”
Prof Stevens has written to Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott suggesting officers carry an antidote.
Mr Scott says the matter is for the force itself to comment on.
Supt Phil Hibben said: “Our officers receive first aid training in line with national standards as part of their statutory training and they have regular refresher courses to ensure their knowledge is up to the required level.
“However, they are not medical experts and cannot be expected to have the knowledge of a medical professional, particularly when it comes to administering medicine with a syringe and the dangers that can present.
“Kent police officers do not carry or administer naloxone and there are no plans for them to do so in the near future. That position will remain under regular review.”
Earlier this year campaigners argued for the introduction of "fix rooms" in Canterbury where users can safely inject the Class A drug in a supervised environment with sterile equipment.
The idea was discussed by Canterbury councillors but has not been progressed.
More by this authorAlex Claridge