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Deaths in England and Wales from the opioid fentanyl and variants of it including the elephant tranquiliser carfentanyl have nearly doubled in the space of a year.

As reform groups and some bereaved families called for changes in the substance abuse laws, figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also showed that overall drugs deaths had hit record levels for the fourth year in a row.

As well as showing that cocaine deaths had increased by 16 per cent to reach their highest level since records began in 1993, Monday’s ONS figures indicated that deaths from fentanyl and fentanyl analogues had increased from 59 in 2016 to 106 in 2017 – a rise of nearly 80 per cent.

The most dramatic element of the increase involved deaths from variants of fentanyl, referred to by the ONS as “fentanyl analogues”.  These rose from just one death in 2016 to 31 in 2017.  Of these 31 deaths, 27 – 87 per cent – were from addicts taking carfentanyl, a drug used by vets to tranquilise elephants.  It is 100 times stronger than fentanyl which itself is up to 100 times stronger than street heroin.

Although the death toll from fentanyl and its analogues is nowhere near that experienced in the American opioid epidemic, the ONS figures do suggest that a drug whose US street names include ‘drop dead’ and ‘serial killer’ is gaining an increasingly destructive foothold in the UK illegal drugs market.

Monday’s ONS statistics also add to fears about fentanyl and carfentanyl being manufactured in backstreet laboratories in the UK.  Their publication comes 16 months after doctors and drugs workers were warned to be on the look-out for signs that addicts were using the two opioids following a spate of deaths and the discovery of an illegal drugs laboratory by West Yorkshire Police in April 2017. Read more

Related news: Margaret Hodge threatens to take Labour Party to court over investigation into her row with Jeremy Corbyn. Read more