The Ana Liffey Drug Project are also concerned about the major potential for overdose deaths.
Detective Superintendent Tony Howard from the National Drug Unit last night issued an urgent warning on RTÉ 1’s Crime Call that heroin and cocaine here are both being cut with fentanyl, an opioid that in its pure form is six hundred times more powerful than morphine and which has been linked internationally to thousands of overdose deaths.
In Louisville, a city with the same population as Dublin, 43% of 2016's fatal drug overdoses were attributed to fentanyl. Last week, a coroner's office in Ohio ran out of body storage space due to the number of fentanyl-related deaths.
“People genuinely aren’t aware of what they’re taking,” Howard stated. “Unfortunately the criminals that are manufacturing these drugs are putting it into heroin and cocaine. It’s cheap, it’s easy to add it to give the individual a stronger buzz. We at An Garda Síochána would support the view that we should have abstinence, but in the real world if you’re taking drugs you really don’t want to take them on your own because with fentanyl, the quicker you get medical assistance the better chance you have of surviving."
The cutting of street drugs with fentanyl is also of major concern to the CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, Tony Duffin.
“In recent days we have had reports from people who inject drugs that heroin is stronger than before," he tells Hot Press. “People who have a tolerance for a certain amount of heroin, to keep them from getting sick from opiate withdrawal, are finding themselves very intoxicated by the same amount of heroin. In some cases people report overdosing. Suffice to say this is not good, Ireland already has the equivalent of one fatal drug overdose a day and we are worried that, should this trend continue, we will see a marked increase in avoidable death.
"There is no quality, nor content, control of street heroin,” Duffin continues. “Yet despite this, people who inject heroin generally get into a routine, manage their drug use and attempt to reduce the associated risks. An experienced person knows their tolerance and intake of heroin. Now potency of heroin is increased – there is uncertainty and people are frightened. We are working with people who use heroin, and crack cocaine cut with fentanyl, to do all we can in the face of an increasingly serious situation to keep people as safe as possible.”
Whilst it’s highly unusual for heroin to surface at Irish festivals, it’s a given that cocaine will be taken this summer at some, if not all of them. If you’re not prepared to abstain, the harm reduction advice is to take a quarter of what you’d normally take and wait three hours to see what effect it has on you before re-dosing.
The fentanyl scare underlines why drug testing is urgently needed at large-scale music events in Ireland.