Drug users taking an illicit form of the drug fentanyl, described as the most potent narcotic known, are chasing a cheap but intense high and pay no attention to warnings about its dangerous and potentially lethal consequences, experts have warned.

Also known as super-smack, illicit fentanyl has killed numerous first responders abroad who encountered the drug on the scene and last week the Maltese authorities warned the drug was making its way to Malta.

Times of Malta spoke to experts about what makes fentanyl so attractive to users.

In an attempt to give an intense high, fentanyl, in the form of a white powder, is often mixed with heroin – with drug traffickers, however, often being none the wiser, said addiction psychiatrist Anthony Dimech.

He said addicts were sometimes blinded in search of a high and often did not care what the drugs might contain.

“It is not about what you get, it is about what you anticipate you are going to get,” he pointed out.

 “In some cases they do not even know they are mixing it in. In other cases it’s a cheaper way of mixing. Whereas before they might have been using something that was not as easily accessible, this is cheaper and gives a better high,” he added.

It is not about what you get, it is about what you anticipate you are going to get

A drug forensics expert, Godwin Sammut, echoed Dr Dimech: “It’s not the first time that those who mix and create heroin do not know what they are making,” he said. “Traffickers do not always know their heroin has been mixed with fentanyl.”

The illicit powdered form is made in South East Asia and bought through Chinese eBay-style websites, he said.

Drug trends in Malta were usually six years behind the US, helping forensic experts anticipate the next trend, he added.

A medicinal form of the drug is provided in hospital to treat chronic, severe pain and major trauma. But the powdered form – 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin – has authorities scratching their heads.

Mr Sammut said it was hard for analysts to pinpoint exactly how the drug was being made. Simply cutting up the already legal tablets did not have the same effect – the medicinal version is ‘cleaner’ than the product being made in South East Asia.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has asked EU Member States to issue guidelines for first responders who are at risk of encountering the substance.

Customs officials, policemen and nurses have been advised to wear the correct protective gear and warned not to touch their eyes, mouth, nose or skin after dealing with a potentially contaminated surface.

In the US, the synthetic opioid has caused what some describe as an epidemic. Its deadly properties have even led it to be used for executions in US states such as Texas.

Described as “the most potent narcotic known”, the man-made opioid had led the US Drug Enforcement Administration to issue a nationwide alert about its dangers.

In the UK, the drug is being bought from Chinese websites. In 2017, deaths caused by the opioid rose by 29 per cent, according to national figures.

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