Tag Archives: Drug

Pregabalin, known as ‘new valium’, to be made class C drug after deaths

A prescription drug described as the “new valium” is to be classified as a class C controlled substance after it was linked to a growing number of UK deaths.

Pregabalin – a substance used to treat nerve pain, epilepsy and anxiety – is increasingly being handed out too readily and being used recreationally, according to doctors and pharmacists. They say that when it is mixed with other substances it can lead to overdose. Deaths connected to pregabalin have risen from four in 2012 to 111 last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Data provided by NHS Digital shows that prescriptions for pregabalin have shot up more than 11-fold in the last decade, from 476,102 in 2006 to 5,547,560 last year. The government has now accepted in principle that pregabalin should be reclassified as a class C controlled substance, which would mean patients could not obtain a repeat prescription.

Pregabalin prescriptions

Yasir Abbasi, a consultant psychiatrist and clinical director for addiction services at Mersey Care NHS foundation trust, said the rising prescription numbers were worrying as, if used inappropriately, pregabalin could be hazardous.

“Doctors need to be cautious about who they are giving it to and be aware of the potential of the drug to be misused and the fact it could be addictive because there is not much information at the moment. The drug was approved for medical use in 2004 and we need more robust evidence,” Abbasi said.

Addaction, the largest drug and alcohol charity, is calling for GPs to be given guidance about how to prescribe pregabalin, particularly to people with substance misuse history. The charity noted that deaths linked to the drug had risen more quickly than those linked to new psychoactive substances.

Pregabalin deaths

Rachel Britton, Addaction’s lead pharmacist, said: “The deaths linked to it – that will be people taking a cocktail of substances that affect the central nervous system eg heroin, pregabalin and benzodiazepines. It eventually depresses respiration, controlled by the brain, and people who take these cocktails die.”

Those who use pregabalin recreationally call it “Budweiser” because it induces a state similar to drunkenness. It makes users feel relaxed and euphoric in a similar way to tranquilisers. It can also enhance the euphoric effects of other drugs, such as opiates, and is likely to increase the risks when taken in this way.

Abbasi said that those misusing pregabalin included people who took it on top of other drugs but also those who were prescribed it who, without talking to their doctor, then started taking a higher dose.

Testimony from doctors, pharmacists and drug counsellors, who were responding to a Guardian callout, suggests abuse of the drug is widespread.

One emergency medicine nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, said her department had seen five cases a month since summer 2016, when someone had overdosed. She said: “Most people who are affected are those with other addiction problems, and ‘pregabs’ is taken along with other substances.”

A family doctor working in Scotland, who also asked for anonymity, said: “Pregabalin is overprescribed by GPs and other doctors for all types of pain despite it only being licensed for neuropathic pain and generalised anxiety disorder. Others easily access it off the internet. It is used by drug users in order to enhance the effects of other drugs they are taking … This is only going to increase as the prescription of both continues to increase.”

Another anonymous respondent, who works in a hostel, said: “Pregabalin has been the cause of several residents overdosing after using this with other substances. In this environment we suspect residents who are prescribed Pregabalin for anxiety and pain of dealing it to other residents … Over the last six months paramedics have been called out over half a dozen times due to these incidents and it is only through pure luck no one has died and feels only a matter of time before this happens.”

Pharmacists were originally advised not to accept requests for cheaper, generic versions of the drug, but this changed in July, when Pfizer’s patent expired. There are concerns that this has prompted a further rise in the drug’s misuse.

A statement from Pfizer said: “When prescribed and administered appropriately, pregabalin is an important and effective treatment option for many adults living with chronic neuropathic pain, generalised anxiety disorder and epilepsy.”

Earlier this year the British Medical Association (BMA) called for the drug to be made a controlled substance in the UK in the same class as steroids and valium. Last year the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs wrote a letter to the government making the same recommendation. It would mean the drug could not be repeat-dispensed and prescriptions would only be valid for one month. The letter warned of the risk of addiction for both pregabalin and a similar drug called gabapentin.

The minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, Sarah Newton, said: “Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy and that is why we have published a comprehensive new drugs strategy to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.

“We have accepted the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advice to control pregabalin and gabapentin as class C drugs in principle, subject to the outcome of a public consultation to assess the impact on the healthcare sector. We will launch the consultation shortly.”

US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag

US regulators approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. But the drug is priced at $ 475,000.

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary, but critics worried the first-of-its-kind cancer treatment could usher in a new class of ultra-expensive medications.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

Currently, standard treatments push about 85% of children into remissions of five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Kymriah would treat patients who don’t respond to standard treatment, probably only a few hundred children and young adults per year.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $ 475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $ 649,000.

Critics countered that the Novartis treatment, no matter how revolutionary, only proved drug pricing in America was “completely broken”.

“While Novartis’ decision to set a price at $ 475,000 per treatment may be seen by some as restraint, we believe it is excessive,” said David Mitchell, the president of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell said Novartis should not “get credit” for bringing an expensive drug to market “and claiming they could have charged people a lot more”.

Mitchell’s group met with Novartis the day before the drug’s approval – and price – was announced.

“Instead of a discussion about how to arrive at a fair price for its new CAR-T drug, Novartis spent most of the meeting explaining why it needs to charge an astronomical price,” Mitchell said.

In a conference call Wednesday, Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, said the $ 475,000 price was an attempt to balance patient access to the drug with ensuring a return on the company’s investment, Stat News reported.

The company’s CEO, Joseph Jimenez, said in a statement: “Five years ago, we began collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania and invested in further developing and bringing what we believed would be a paradigm-changing immunocellular therapy to cancer patients in dire need. With the approval of Kymriah, we are once again delivering on our commitment to change the course of cancer care.”

The drug company also said in the statement that it was collaborating with Medicare on a plan in which the government would only pay for the treatments if patients responded to them by the end of the first month.

Patients for Affordable Drugs calculated that before Novartis collaborated with University of Pennsylvania, American taxpayers invested roughly $ 200m into “foundational” research on CAR-T cell therapies, as the new immunotherapy treatment is known.

The FDA approved Novartis’ drug following a study of 63 patients that found 83% who took the medication went into remission. However, it is unclear how long the benefits of the treatment may last; some patients relapsed months later.

Further, patients could also experience extreme and even life-threatening side effects. One side effect, cytokine release syndrome, can cause high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. Another, neurological toxicities, can cause delirium, loss of balance and difficulty speaking and understanding.

Additionally, patients will almost certainly have to travel to receive the treatment. Novartis individually edits patients’ cells. Anyone seeking treatment will need to travel to one of 32 sites around the country for their cells to be collected and mailed to Novartis in New Jersey, Stat News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag

US regulators approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. But the drug is priced at $ 475,000.

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary, but critics worried the first-of-its-kind cancer treatment could usher in a new class of ultra-expensive medications.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

Currently, standard treatments push about 85% of children into remissions of five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Kymriah would treat patients who don’t respond to standard treatment, probably only a few hundred children and young adults per year.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $ 475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $ 649,000.

Critics countered that the Novartis treatment, no matter how revolutionary, only proved drug pricing in America was “completely broken”.

“While Novartis’ decision to set a price at $ 475,000 per treatment may be seen by some as restraint, we believe it is excessive,” said David Mitchell, the president of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell said Novartis should not “get credit” for bringing an expensive drug to market “and claiming they could have charged people a lot more”.

Mitchell’s group met with Novartis the day before the drug’s approval – and price – was announced.

“Instead of a discussion about how to arrive at a fair price for its new CAR-T drug, Novartis spent most of the meeting explaining why it needs to charge an astronomical price,” Mitchell said.

In a conference call Wednesday, Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, said the $ 475,000 price was an attempt to balance patient access to the drug with ensuring a return on the company’s investment, Stat News reported.

The company’s CEO, Joseph Jimenez, said in a statement: “Five years ago, we began collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania and invested in further developing and bringing what we believed would be a paradigm-changing immunocellular therapy to cancer patients in dire need. With the approval of Kymriah, we are once again delivering on our commitment to change the course of cancer care.”

The drug company also said in the statement that it was collaborating with Medicare on a plan in which the government would only pay for the treatments if patients responded to them by the end of the first month.

Patients for Affordable Drugs calculated that before Novartis collaborated with University of Pennsylvania, American taxpayers invested roughly $ 200m into “foundational” research on CAR-T cell therapies, as the new immunotherapy treatment is known.

The FDA approved Novartis’ drug following a study of 63 patients that found 83% who took the medication went into remission. However, it is unclear how long the benefits of the treatment may last; some patients relapsed months later.

Further, patients could also experience extreme and even life-threatening side effects. One side effect, cytokine release syndrome, can cause high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. Another, neurological toxicities, can cause delirium, loss of balance and difficulty speaking and understanding.

Additionally, patients will almost certainly have to travel to receive the treatment. Novartis individually edits patients’ cells. Anyone seeking treatment will need to travel to one of 32 sites around the country for their cells to be collected and mailed to Novartis in New Jersey, Stat News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag

US regulators approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. But the drug is priced at $ 475,000.

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary, but critics worried the first-of-its-kind cancer treatment could usher in a new class of ultra-expensive medications.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

Currently, standard treatments push about 85% of children into remissions of five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Kymriah would treat patients who don’t respond to standard treatment, probably only a few hundred children and young adults per year.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $ 475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $ 649,000.

Critics countered that the Novartis treatment, no matter how revolutionary, only proved drug pricing in America was “completely broken”.

“While Novartis’ decision to set a price at $ 475,000 per treatment may be seen by some as restraint, we believe it is excessive,” said David Mitchell, the president of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell said Novartis should not “get credit” for bringing an expensive drug to market “and claiming they could have charged people a lot more”.

Mitchell’s group met with Novartis the day before the drug’s approval – and price – was announced.

“Instead of a discussion about how to arrive at a fair price for its new CAR-T drug, Novartis spent most of the meeting explaining why it needs to charge an astronomical price,” Mitchell said.

In a conference call Wednesday, Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, said the $ 475,000 price was an attempt to balance patient access to the drug with ensuring a return on the company’s investment, Stat News reported.

The company’s CEO, Joseph Jimenez, said in a statement: “Five years ago, we began collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania and invested in further developing and bringing what we believed would be a paradigm-changing immunocellular therapy to cancer patients in dire need. With the approval of Kymriah, we are once again delivering on our commitment to change the course of cancer care.”

The drug company also said in the statement that it was collaborating with Medicare on a plan in which the government would only pay for the treatments if patients responded to them by the end of the first month.

Patients for Affordable Drugs calculated that before Novartis collaborated with University of Pennsylvania, American taxpayers invested roughly $ 200m into “foundational” research on CAR-T cell therapies, as the new immunotherapy treatment is known.

The FDA approved Novartis’ drug following a study of 63 patients that found 83% who took the medication went into remission. However, it is unclear how long the benefits of the treatment may last; some patients relapsed months later.

Further, patients could also experience extreme and even life-threatening side effects. One side effect, cytokine release syndrome, can cause high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. Another, neurological toxicities, can cause delirium, loss of balance and difficulty speaking and understanding.

Additionally, patients will almost certainly have to travel to receive the treatment. Novartis individually edits patients’ cells. Anyone seeking treatment will need to travel to one of 32 sites around the country for their cells to be collected and mailed to Novartis in New Jersey, Stat News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag

US regulators approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. But the drug is priced at $ 475,000.

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary, but critics worried the first-of-its-kind cancer treatment could usher in a new class of ultra-expensive medications.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

Currently, standard treatments push about 85% of children into remissions of five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Kymriah would treat patients who don’t respond to standard treatment, probably only a few hundred children and young adults per year.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $ 475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $ 649,000.

Critics countered that the Novartis treatment, no matter how revolutionary, only proved drug pricing in America was “completely broken”.

“While Novartis’ decision to set a price at $ 475,000 per treatment may be seen by some as restraint, we believe it is excessive,” said David Mitchell, the president of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell said Novartis should not “get credit” for bringing an expensive drug to market “and claiming they could have charged people a lot more”.

Mitchell’s group met with Novartis the day before the drug’s approval – and price – was announced.

“Instead of a discussion about how to arrive at a fair price for its new CAR-T drug, Novartis spent most of the meeting explaining why it needs to charge an astronomical price,” Mitchell said.

In a conference call Wednesday, Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, said the $ 475,000 price was an attempt to balance patient access to the drug with ensuring a return on the company’s investment, Stat News reported.

The company’s CEO, Joseph Jimenez, said in a statement: “Five years ago, we began collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania and invested in further developing and bringing what we believed would be a paradigm-changing immunocellular therapy to cancer patients in dire need. With the approval of Kymriah, we are once again delivering on our commitment to change the course of cancer care.”

The drug company also said in the statement that it was collaborating with Medicare on a plan in which the government would only pay for the treatments if patients responded to them by the end of the first month.

Patients for Affordable Drugs calculated that before Novartis collaborated with University of Pennsylvania, American taxpayers invested roughly $ 200m into “foundational” research on CAR-T cell therapies, as the new immunotherapy treatment is known.

The FDA approved Novartis’ drug following a study of 63 patients that found 83% who took the medication went into remission. However, it is unclear how long the benefits of the treatment may last; some patients relapsed months later.

Further, patients could also experience extreme and even life-threatening side effects. One side effect, cytokine release syndrome, can cause high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. Another, neurological toxicities, can cause delirium, loss of balance and difficulty speaking and understanding.

Additionally, patients will almost certainly have to travel to receive the treatment. Novartis individually edits patients’ cells. Anyone seeking treatment will need to travel to one of 32 sites around the country for their cells to be collected and mailed to Novartis in New Jersey, Stat News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag

US regulators approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. But the drug is priced at $ 475,000.

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary, but critics worried the first-of-its-kind cancer treatment could usher in a new class of ultra-expensive medications.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

Currently, standard treatments push about 85% of children into remissions of five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Kymriah would treat patients who don’t respond to standard treatment, probably only a few hundred children and young adults per year.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $ 475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $ 649,000.

Critics countered that the Novartis treatment, no matter how revolutionary, only proved drug pricing in America was “completely broken”.

“While Novartis’ decision to set a price at $ 475,000 per treatment may be seen by some as restraint, we believe it is excessive,” said David Mitchell, the president of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell said Novartis should not “get credit” for bringing an expensive drug to market “and claiming they could have charged people a lot more”.

Mitchell’s group met with Novartis the day before the drug’s approval – and price – was announced.

“Instead of a discussion about how to arrive at a fair price for its new CAR-T drug, Novartis spent most of the meeting explaining why it needs to charge an astronomical price,” Mitchell said.

In a conference call Wednesday, Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, said the $ 475,000 price was an attempt to balance patient access to the drug with ensuring a return on the company’s investment, Stat News reported.

The company’s CEO, Joseph Jimenez, said in a statement: “Five years ago, we began collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania and invested in further developing and bringing what we believed would be a paradigm-changing immunocellular therapy to cancer patients in dire need. With the approval of Kymriah, we are once again delivering on our commitment to change the course of cancer care.”

The drug company also said in the statement that it was collaborating with Medicare on a plan in which the government would only pay for the treatments if patients responded to them by the end of the first month.

Patients for Affordable Drugs calculated that before Novartis collaborated with University of Pennsylvania, American taxpayers invested roughly $ 200m into “foundational” research on CAR-T cell therapies, as the new immunotherapy treatment is known.

The FDA approved Novartis’ drug following a study of 63 patients that found 83% who took the medication went into remission. However, it is unclear how long the benefits of the treatment may last; some patients relapsed months later.

Further, patients could also experience extreme and even life-threatening side effects. One side effect, cytokine release syndrome, can cause high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. Another, neurological toxicities, can cause delirium, loss of balance and difficulty speaking and understanding.

Additionally, patients will almost certainly have to travel to receive the treatment. Novartis individually edits patients’ cells. Anyone seeking treatment will need to travel to one of 32 sites around the country for their cells to be collected and mailed to Novartis in New Jersey, Stat News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

US approves first cancer drug to use patient’s own cells – with $475,000 price tag

US regulators approved the first cancer drug that uses a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. But the drug is priced at $ 475,000.

Oncologists described the drug, made by Novartis and marketed as Kymriah, as revolutionary, but critics worried the first-of-its-kind cancer treatment could usher in a new class of ultra-expensive medications.

Kymriah will be a one-time, intravenous treatment patients receive after scientists at Novartis engineer a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) to fight cancer. The drug will treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of childhood cancer in the US.

Currently, standard treatments push about 85% of children into remissions of five years or longer, according to the American Cancer Society. Kymriah would treat patients who don’t respond to standard treatment, probably only a few hundred children and young adults per year.

“This is a brand new way of treating cancer,” said Dr Stephan Grupp of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the Novartis study. Grupp treated the first patient using the new immunotherapy procedure: a girl who was near death but is now cancer-free five years and counting. Grupp described the drug as “enormously exciting”.

Though the price may be shocking to many, analysts will probably view the $ 475,000 price tag as conservative. A British study suggested the “upper bound” for a drug like Kymriah could be $ 649,000.

Critics countered that the Novartis treatment, no matter how revolutionary, only proved drug pricing in America was “completely broken”.

“While Novartis’ decision to set a price at $ 475,000 per treatment may be seen by some as restraint, we believe it is excessive,” said David Mitchell, the president of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell said Novartis should not “get credit” for bringing an expensive drug to market “and claiming they could have charged people a lot more”.

Mitchell’s group met with Novartis the day before the drug’s approval – and price – was announced.

“Instead of a discussion about how to arrive at a fair price for its new CAR-T drug, Novartis spent most of the meeting explaining why it needs to charge an astronomical price,” Mitchell said.

In a conference call Wednesday, Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, said the $ 475,000 price was an attempt to balance patient access to the drug with ensuring a return on the company’s investment, Stat News reported.

The company’s CEO, Joseph Jimenez, said in a statement: “Five years ago, we began collaborating with the University of Pennsylvania and invested in further developing and bringing what we believed would be a paradigm-changing immunocellular therapy to cancer patients in dire need. With the approval of Kymriah, we are once again delivering on our commitment to change the course of cancer care.”

The drug company also said in the statement that it was collaborating with Medicare on a plan in which the government would only pay for the treatments if patients responded to them by the end of the first month.

Patients for Affordable Drugs calculated that before Novartis collaborated with University of Pennsylvania, American taxpayers invested roughly $ 200m into “foundational” research on CAR-T cell therapies, as the new immunotherapy treatment is known.

The FDA approved Novartis’ drug following a study of 63 patients that found 83% who took the medication went into remission. However, it is unclear how long the benefits of the treatment may last; some patients relapsed months later.

Further, patients could also experience extreme and even life-threatening side effects. One side effect, cytokine release syndrome, can cause high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. Another, neurological toxicities, can cause delirium, loss of balance and difficulty speaking and understanding.

Additionally, patients will almost certainly have to travel to receive the treatment. Novartis individually edits patients’ cells. Anyone seeking treatment will need to travel to one of 32 sites around the country for their cells to be collected and mailed to Novartis in New Jersey, Stat News reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Why fentanyl could become the UK’s most dangerous drug

Fentanyl is starting to hit the headlines in the UK. The drug is not so well-known this side of the Atlantic but, if experiences in America are anything to go by, that will change. Sadly, fentanyl is a problem that is unlikely to be going away.

Fentanyl is a powerful pain-relieving drug, 50 times more potent than morphine, and was originally synthesised by Belgian chemist Paul Jannsen. The drug has medical applications, for example, in anaesthesia and relieving pain from major surgery or cancer.

The drug interacts with the same opioid receptors as morphine and heroin and is therefore called an opioid, even though it is chemically unrelated to opiates (drugs derived from opium poppies). Opioid receptors are part of the body’s reward pathway. Chemicals are released in our body to make us feel good as a reward for activities that help us survive and procreate, such as eating, drinking and sex. Increasing the presence of feelgood chemicals in our body is why opiates and opioids can be so powerfully addictive.

The body responds to repeated doses of opioids by desensitising the receptors. It means more opioid drugs have to be taken to achieve the same level of pain relief, when taken for medical reasons, or to reach the same high if taken recreationally. This is the development of tolerance. Those who have been taking opioids for a a longer period can cope with quantities that would kill new users or those who have lost their tolerance through a break in taking the drug.

For regular users, reducing the dose or stopping it means the body suddenly has receptors that need huge stimulation to relieve pain but no drug to stimulate them. Withdrawal from opioids can be agony. Every bone in the body hurts, you experience severe cold and goose bumps – hence the phrase “cold turkey”. With fentanyl the high is greater and so is the withdrawal. The desire to take more of the drug can be overwhelming.

Since the 1960s the fentanyl backbone has been modified and tinkered with to produce a huge number of variants that will differ in their interactions in the body. Some variants are more powerful sedatives than others and they differ in how long before they take effect. Carfentanil, for example, is thousands of times more powerful than morphine and is used to tranquilise elephants. It is so powerful that those who work with elephants, park rangers etc., are required to have two people present if they are planning to use carfentanil darts. One person is there to fire the dart, and the other, sitting next to them with the antidote ready, in case of an accidental scratch. Incredibly there have been cases of human consumption of carfentanil, spiked in heroin or cocaine.

Because fentanyl interacts with the same receptors as morphine, the same antidote can be used. Naloxone, also marketed as Narcan, binds to opioid receptors but doesn’t stimulate them, it simply blocks the site where the opioid would bind and reverses all the opioid’s effects. However, fentanyl binds much more strongly to these receptors meaning a much larger dose of the antidote is needed. Emergency staff in the US have been known to administer a dozen or more doses of naloxone in cases of fentanyl overdose with no appreciable effect.

The intense and rapid high produced by fentanyl has made it attractive drug for recreational use. Cutting fentanyl with drugs like heroin and cocaine dramatically intensifies the potency and makes it far more addictive, benefiting drug dealers with very dependent consumers. It also dramatically increases in chances of dying. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal for an adult. Fentanyl has become a large part of America’s opioid crisis.

Fentanyl kills for the same reasons that opiates kill – they slow respiration until it stops. Death is by suffocation. Drugs administered by prescription or in hospital environments are quality controlled and used where the effects can be monitored and action taken if something goes wrong. By definition there is no such control in the illegal drugs trade. What is sold on the street could be anything from a little heroin, diluted with something fairly innocuous, to pure fentanyl.

It was recently reported that fentanyl has claimed the lives of at least 60 people in the UK over the last eight months. Sixty is a large number but it pales in comparison to the number of lives claimed by the drug in the US.

The process of making drugs is often frighteningly easy. For example, converting morphine to its far more addictive form heroin is an easy process that can be carried out with minimal knowledge and equipment. It is an attractive prospect for those wanting to make a quick profit. The biggest problem would be obtaining the raw materials, which in the case of morphine/heroin isn’t particularly difficult if you know where to look.

Fentanyl offers much greater profits per kilo than heroin but also presents greater problems. The chemistry needed to make fentanyl and its related compounds is not that difficult, at least on paper. Obtaining the raw materials is not the hardest part. The real problems occur in the practicalities of the chemical process needed to manufacture the drugs. These compounds are so potent that touching equipment contaminated with the drug can prove fatal. But, because it requires relatively specialised knowledge, the number of people producing fentanyl drugs illegally is quite small. However, because what they produce is so potent, a little bit goes a long way, and there is the potential to affect huge numbers of drug users.

On the positive side, if law enforcement can shut down just a few fentanyl factories it can dramatically reduce the number drug-related deaths. But even shutting down these factories is not straightforward. Drug raids have to be carefully planned. Going in all guns blazing can result in fentanyl powder being blown up into the air and officers needing emergency medical treatment. A police officer in the US was hospitalised simply because of brushing fentanyl powder off his uniform after an arrest.

There is no obvious quick fix to this growing problem. Reducing the number of opioid prescriptions may help lower the number of people who become addicted. Knowledge of the appalling effects of fentanyl may at least raise awareness but the chances of it deterring people from taking the drug seems a vain hope. One way of maybe reducing the number of deaths is making the opioid-blocker naloxone more widely available, but this is far from being a solution to the problem. Other ideas put forward have included making safer supplies of drugs available to users, at least temporarily. Leaving things as they are is not an option unless you want to see thousands more die. I sincerely hope I am wrong, but the future looks bleak.

Why fentanyl could become the UK’s most dangerous drug

Fentanyl is starting to hit the headlines in the UK. The drug is not so well-known this side of the Atlantic but, if experiences in America are anything to go by, that will change. Sadly, fentanyl is a problem that is unlikely to be going away.

Fentanyl is a powerful pain-relieving drug, 50 times more potent than morphine, and was originally synthesised by Belgian chemist Paul Jannsen. The drug has medical applications, for example, in anaesthesia and relieving pain from major surgery or cancer.

The drug interacts with the same opioid receptors as morphine and heroin and is therefore called an opioid, even though it is chemically unrelated to opiates (drugs derived from opium poppies). Opioid receptors are part of the body’s reward pathway. Chemicals are released in our body to make us feel good as a reward for activities that help us survive and procreate, such as eating, drinking and sex. Increasing the presence of feelgood chemicals in our body is why opiates and opioids can be so powerfully addictive.

The body responds to repeated doses of opioids by desensitising the receptors. It means more opioid drugs have to be taken to achieve the same level of pain relief, when taken for medical reasons, or to reach the same high if taken recreationally. This is the development of tolerance. Those who have been taking opioids for a a longer period can cope with quantities that would kill new users or those who have lost their tolerance through a break in taking the drug.

For regular users, reducing the dose or stopping it means the body suddenly has receptors that need huge stimulation to relieve pain but no drug to stimulate them. Withdrawal from opioids can be agony. Every bone in the body hurts, you experience severe cold and goose bumps – hence the phrase “cold turkey”. With fentanyl the high is greater and so is the withdrawal. The desire to take more of the drug can be overwhelming.

Since the 1960s the fentanyl backbone has been modified and tinkered with to produce a huge number of variants that will differ in their interactions in the body. Some variants are more powerful sedatives than others and they differ in how long before they take effect. Carfentanil, for example, is thousands of times more powerful than morphine and is used to tranquilise elephants. It is so powerful that those who work with elephants, park rangers etc., are required to have two people present if they are planning to use carfentanil darts. One person is there to fire the dart, and the other, sitting next to them with the antidote ready, in case of an accidental scratch. Incredibly there have been cases of human consumption of carfentanil, spiked in heroin or cocaine.

Because fentanyl interacts with the same receptors as morphine, the same antidote can be used. Naloxone, also marketed as Narcan, binds to opioid receptors but doesn’t stimulate them, it simply blocks the site where the opioid would bind and reverses all the opioid’s effects. However, fentanyl binds much more strongly to these receptors meaning a much larger dose of the antidote is needed. Emergency staff in the US have been known to administer a dozen or more doses of naloxone in cases of fentanyl overdose with no appreciable effect.

The intense and rapid high produced by fentanyl has made it attractive drug for recreational use. Cutting fentanyl with drugs like heroin and cocaine dramatically intensifies the potency and makes it far more addictive, benefiting drug dealers with very dependent consumers. It also dramatically increases in chances of dying. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal for an adult. Fentanyl has become a large part of America’s opioid crisis.

Fentanyl kills for the same reasons that opiates kill – they slow respiration until it stops. Death is by suffocation. Drugs administered by prescription or in hospital environments are quality controlled and used where the effects can be monitored and action taken if something goes wrong. By definition there is no such control in the illegal drugs trade. What is sold on the street could be anything from a little heroin, diluted with something fairly innocuous, to pure fentanyl.

It was recently reported that fentanyl has claimed the lives of at least 60 people in the UK over the last eight months. Sixty is a large number but it pales in comparison to the number of lives claimed by the drug in the US.

The process of making drugs is often frighteningly easy. For example, converting morphine to its far more addictive form heroin is an easy process that can be carried out with minimal knowledge and equipment. It is an attractive prospect for those wanting to make a quick profit. The biggest problem would be obtaining the raw materials, which in the case of morphine/heroin isn’t particularly difficult if you know where to look.

Fentanyl offers much greater profits per kilo than heroin but also presents greater problems. The chemistry needed to make fentanyl and its related compounds is not that difficult, at least on paper. Obtaining the raw materials is not the hardest part. The real problems occur in the practicalities of the chemical process needed to manufacture the drugs. These compounds are so potent that touching equipment contaminated with the drug can prove fatal. But, because it requires relatively specialised knowledge, the number of people producing fentanyl drugs illegally is quite small. However, because what they produce is so potent, a little bit goes a long way, and there is the potential to affect huge numbers of drug users.

On the positive side, if law enforcement can shut down just a few fentanyl factories it can dramatically reduce the number drug-related deaths. But even shutting down these factories is not straightforward. Drug raids have to be carefully planned. Going in all guns blazing can result in fentanyl powder being blown up into the air and officers needing emergency medical treatment. A police officer in the US was hospitalised simply because of brushing fentanyl powder off his uniform after an arrest.

There is no obvious quick fix to this growing problem. Reducing the number of opioid prescriptions may help lower the number of people who become addicted. Knowledge of the appalling effects of fentanyl may at least raise awareness but the chances of it deterring people from taking the drug seems a vain hope. One way of maybe reducing the number of deaths is making the opioid-blocker naloxone more widely available, but this is far from being a solution to the problem. Other ideas put forward have included making safer supplies of drugs available to users, at least temporarily. Leaving things as they are is not an option unless you want to see thousands more die. I sincerely hope I am wrong, but the future looks bleak.

Why fentanyl could become the UK’s most dangerous drug

Fentanyl is starting to hit the headlines in the UK. The drug is not so well-known this side of the Atlantic but, if experiences in America are anything to go by, that will change. Sadly, fentanyl is a problem that is unlikely to be going away.

Fentanyl is a powerful pain-relieving drug, 50 times more potent than morphine, and was originally synthesised by Belgian chemist Paul Jannsen. The drug has medical applications, for example, in anaesthesia and relieving pain from major surgery or cancer.

The drug interacts with the same opioid receptors as morphine and heroin and is therefore called an opioid, even though it is chemically unrelated to opiates (drugs derived from opium poppies). Opioid receptors are part of the body’s reward pathway. Chemicals are released in our body to make us feel good as a reward for activities that help us survive and procreate, such as eating, drinking and sex. Increasing the presence of feelgood chemicals in our body is why opiates and opioids can be so powerfully addictive.

The body responds to repeated doses of opioids by desensitising the receptors. It means more opioid drugs have to be taken to achieve the same level of pain relief, when taken for medical reasons, or to reach the same high if taken recreationally. This is the development of tolerance. Those who have been taking opioids for a a longer period can cope with quantities that would kill new users or those who have lost their tolerance through a break in taking the drug.

For regular users, reducing the dose or stopping it means the body suddenly has receptors that need huge stimulation to relieve pain but no drug to stimulate them. Withdrawal from opioids can be agony. Every bone in the body hurts, you experience severe cold and goose bumps – hence the phrase “cold turkey”. With fentanyl the high is greater and so is the withdrawal. The desire to take more of the drug can be overwhelming.

Since the 1960s the fentanyl backbone has been modified and tinkered with to produce a huge number of variants that will differ in their interactions in the body. Some variants are more powerful sedatives than others and they differ in how long before they take effect. Carfentanil, for example, is thousands of times more powerful than morphine and is used to tranquilise elephants. It is so powerful that those who work with elephants, park rangers etc., are required to have two people present if they are planning to use carfentanil darts. One person is there to fire the dart, and the other, sitting next to them with the antidote ready, in case of an accidental scratch. Incredibly there have been cases of human consumption of carfentanil, spiked in heroin or cocaine.

Because fentanyl interacts with the same receptors as morphine, the same antidote can be used. Naloxone, also marketed as Narcan, binds to opioid receptors but doesn’t stimulate them, it simply blocks the site where the opioid would bind and reverses all the opioid’s effects. However, fentanyl binds much more strongly to these receptors meaning a much larger dose of the antidote is needed. Emergency staff in the US have been known to administer a dozen or more doses of naloxone in cases of fentanyl overdose with no appreciable effect.

The intense and rapid high produced by fentanyl has made it attractive drug for recreational use. Cutting fentanyl with drugs like heroin and cocaine dramatically intensifies the potency and makes it far more addictive, benefiting drug dealers with very dependent consumers. It also dramatically increases in chances of dying. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal for an adult. Fentanyl has become a large part of America’s opioid crisis.

Fentanyl kills for the same reasons that opiates kill – they slow respiration until it stops. Death is by suffocation. Drugs administered by prescription or in hospital environments are quality controlled and used where the effects can be monitored and action taken if something goes wrong. By definition there is no such control in the illegal drugs trade. What is sold on the street could be anything from a little heroin, diluted with something fairly innocuous, to pure fentanyl.

It was recently reported that fentanyl has claimed the lives of at least 60 people in the UK over the last eight months. Sixty is a large number but it pales in comparison to the number of lives claimed by the drug in the US.

The process of making drugs is often frighteningly easy. For example, converting morphine to its far more addictive form heroin is an easy process that can be carried out with minimal knowledge and equipment. It is an attractive prospect for those wanting to make a quick profit. The biggest problem would be obtaining the raw materials, which in the case of morphine/heroin isn’t particularly difficult if you know where to look.

Fentanyl offers much greater profits per kilo than heroin but also presents greater problems. The chemistry needed to make fentanyl and its related compounds is not that difficult, at least on paper. Obtaining the raw materials is not the hardest part. The real problems occur in the practicalities of the chemical process needed to manufacture the drugs. These compounds are so potent that touching equipment contaminated with the drug can prove fatal. But, because it requires relatively specialised knowledge, the number of people producing fentanyl drugs illegally is quite small. However, because what they produce is so potent, a little bit goes a long way, and there is the potential to affect huge numbers of drug users.

On the positive side, if law enforcement can shut down just a few fentanyl factories it can dramatically reduce the number drug-related deaths. But even shutting down these factories is not straightforward. Drug raids have to be carefully planned. Going in all guns blazing can result in fentanyl powder being blown up into the air and officers needing emergency medical treatment. A police officer in the US was hospitalised simply because of brushing fentanyl powder off his uniform after an arrest.

There is no obvious quick fix to this growing problem. Reducing the number of opioid prescriptions may help lower the number of people who become addicted. Knowledge of the appalling effects of fentanyl may at least raise awareness but the chances of it deterring people from taking the drug seems a vain hope. One way of maybe reducing the number of deaths is making the opioid-blocker naloxone more widely available, but this is far from being a solution to the problem. Other ideas put forward have included making safer supplies of drugs available to users, at least temporarily. Leaving things as they are is not an option unless you want to see thousands more die. I sincerely hope I am wrong, but the future looks bleak.