Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Mid-West, John Curran has said based on emerging trends in illicit drug use in Ireland, Government must explore and examine new measures in harm and risk reduction, including making Fentanyl Test Strips available to heroin users engaging with needle exchange services.
“Fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic-like opioid often used to lace heroin or cocaine but hard for drug users to detect is a becoming a factor in the rising number of accidental overdoses and drug related deaths,” said Deputy Curran.
“The often deadly, high potency drug has already claimed very many lives in Europe. In fact, Ireland has been previously warned by the European Monitoring System for Drugs and Drug Addiction to be vigilant of this new synthetic opioid taking hold on our streets.
“In 2016 the Health Service Executive issued an alert about fentanyl after it was found to be implicated in five overdose deaths in Dublin and Cork. Two years on, Dr Chris Luke, specialist in emergency medicine in Cork University Hospital has warned of an emerging epidemic.
“Both An Garda Síochána and the Union of Students of Ireland have also issued public warnings to raise awareness of its growing prevalence.
“Without laboratory testing, drug users are unable to determine what the illicit drugs they have purchased actually contains. It is crucial that emergency front line staff responding to an unintentional overdose are aware of whether the drug user has consumed fentanyl as opposed to heroin or another substances. For instance, those administering the overdose saving medication, Naxolone, need a far greater supply to block the effects of fentanyl as opposed to heroin.
“Earlier this month the International Journal of Drug Policy published findings of a study regarding fentanyl test strips, carried out by Brown University’s School of Public Health. The study, one of many taking place worldwide, ultimately found that test strips are effective at preventing overdose when dipped in a drug solution and fentanyl has been detected.
“By providing rapid-acting fentanyl test strips to those at risk of overdose, you are providing a potentially life-saving intervention. This is not a case of endorsing or condoning drug use of any nature. This is about acknowledging an issue in public health and exploring efficiency of possible risk reduction measures.
“The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of drug-related deaths can be prevented. It would be only reasonable and proactive to examine the viability of providing these strips to those who engage with needle exchange services in Ireland.
“I am not suggesting that relying on test strips alone will mitigate all of the dangers associated with this powerful drug – there is some research on their potential yet to be finalised. Fianna Fáil fully supports the principal of harm reduction and a number of ideas aimed at reducing the consequences of problem drug use are detailed in our submission to the National Drugs Strategy.
He concluded, “I will be examining this measure further and I intend on pursuing this directly with Minister Catherine Byrne in the coming weeks.”