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Cocaine is being mixed with fentanyl, a drug which can be deadly in even small doses, and it’s ‘really worrying’ says Priory drugs expert

  • Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
  • When taken, urgent access to an antidote is critical because of its potency, says Priory expert
  • Some UK dealers are lacing cocaine with fentanyl
  • This is a “very worrying development”, says Dr William Shanahan
  • If fentanyl becomes more widely used, we will undoubtedly see more deaths”

 A leading Priory addictions expert has warned of the acute dangers posed by the drug fentanyl – and how cocaine is now being laced with it, to deadly effect.

He spoke out as drug deaths from fentanyl have soared in places like New York City, reaching their highest point since they were first tracked more than two decades ago. There were 2,668 fatal overdoses in 2021 – an increase of over 500. The US Drug Enforcement Agency said: “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.”

In the UK, data from the Office for National Statistics shows there were some 60 deaths from overdosing on fentanyl or its derivatives in 2021, down from 100 in 2018.

However, experts warn that fentanyl is now finding its way into the cocaine supply chain and fatalities could rise.

Fentanyl is a strong opioid painkiller used to treat severe pain from cancer or after an operation. It is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

Dr William Shanahan, Priory’s clinical director of addictions, and medical director at Priory’s Hospital in Roehampton, south-west London, says: “Most addiction doctors at Priory are now seeing occasional patients from the US with fentanyl problems. Fortunately, fentanyl addiction remains rare in the UK but there are reports from the streets that some cocaine dealers are lacing their cocaine with fentanyl. This is a very worrying development.”

He says that in the UK there is a greater awareness of fentanyl’s dangers, because of “horror stories from the US” which have filtered down to the drug-using community here. “Despite the ‘desirability’ of a hit, even the most hardened drug users would prefer to use a relatively safe drug,” he says.

“With a drug like fentanyl, urgent access to an antidote is critical because it is so potent.

“You may need to be given the ‘reverse agent’ naloxone several times.

“Priory’s addiction rehabilitation services offer detoxification followed by rehabilitation and counselling on relapse prevention. The programme will depend on the amount being used and whether the person needs inpatient treatment. After detoxification, there is a long-acting version of the antidote naloxone that is called Naltrexone.” It works by blocking the effects of drugs, especially the ‘high’ feeling that makes users want to re-use.




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About Priory and MEDIAN   

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions including depression, anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support adults with complex autism, learning disabilities, Prader-Willi Syndrome and brain injuries, as well as older people, as a leading provider of specialist residential care and supported living – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.    

Priory is part of MEDIAN, one of Europe’s leading providers of high-quality mental health and medical rehabilitative services. Overall, there are 430 facilities in the MEDIAN Group, comprising 307 Priory facilities with 5,364 beds in the United Kingdom caring for 35,000 people, and 123 facilities and 20,000 beds and therapy places in Germany, caring for around 260,0000 patients, with approximately 35,000 employees overall.     

MEDIAN manages patients who have experienced symptoms of COVID-19, and/or Long COVID, and shares information for medical professionals at:     

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