Tests are currently being carried out on a batch of opiate like drugs after a number of people were admitted to Borders General Hospital over the weekend.
Information from Police Scotland suggests that there could be some mixing of heroin laced with synthetic opioids, possibly fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
Fentanyl is sometimes prescribed legally as a painkiller for the terminally ill in the form of a skin patch or nasal spray and tiny quantities are potentially fatal, even to touch. The potency meant that investigating officers had to wear protective clothing to handle the substance.
A number of deaths in recent months have been seen across the UK linked to fentanyl.
Chris Faldon, nurse consultant health protection, NHS Borders said: “Those in contact with heroin users should be alert to the increased possibility of overdose arising from heroin cut with these synthetic opioids.
“They should watch carefully for the signs of an overdose. Symptoms include trouble breathing or shallow breathing; tiredness; extreme sleepiness or sedation; inability to think, walk, or talk normally; and feeling faint, dizzy, or confused. Be prepared to call 999 immediately for an ambulance if someone overdoses and administer naloxone (the drug used to reverse the effects of heroin overdoses) if available and competent to do so.”
An NHS Borders joint director of public health added: “Tests are currently underway to establish the active ingredients in a batch of opiate like drugs which are thought to have led to the admission of a number of people to the Borders General Hospital over the weekend.
“There are significant risks associated with this batch which is believed to have been circulating in the Galashiels area.”
Opioids are associated with the most severe health problems among drug users and in 89% of drug related deaths in 2015 they were present.
Police Scotland has acknowledged that there is an increasing trend for serious and organised crime groups to be involved in drug supply in the region and tackling this is a priority in the Scottish Borders Local Police Plan 2017-2020. There have been intelligence led operations targeting an organised crime group based in the Scottish Borders and it remains a priority.
If you are concerned about your own drug use or that of someone else, support services are available across the Borders: http://www.nhsborders.scot.nhs.uk/badp or phone Addaction on 01896 757843 or Borders Addiction Service on 01896 664430.
For more information on harm reduction see NHS Borders Addictions Service website http://www.nhsborders.scot.nhs.uk/patients-and-visitors/our-services/mental-health/borders-addiction-service/ or telephone 01896 664430.
This service can be accessed via your GP or social worker for a range of treatments and intervention.