Causing panic across the country, overdoses in London have once again taken an irreplaceable toll on our city’s health. But we are not alone. On 8 November 2018, an estimated 40 deaths were reported in the surrounding West Lothian area alone. With a total population of 210,000 people, this would translate to two deaths a day per resident.
Since 2016, fentanyl and carfentanil have been fuelling a toxic substance crisis. They are responsible for 4,000 deaths in the US every year and are quickly becoming drugs of choice around the world. Despite the scope of the crisis, effective drug policy remains a distant thought in government circles – the deaths of another 20 have yet to be officially recorded by the West Lothian emergency services.
An important first step in addressing this situation will be the publication of a formulary outlining what is and is not in a class A drug. This response, unlike the prohibitionist strategies of the 1970s, will allow for the testing and identification of dangerous substances and a much more informed response. A formulary would also close the gaps where public health concerns are not reflected in current laws.
“Man-made” opioids, the ones that kill in the hundreds of thousands every year, need to be brought under control. This needs to be achieved in a controlled manner, not through random zero-tolerance, but with the regulation of fake drugs like those sold online. The only way we can properly regulate them is by making sure that every person looking to buy a drug knows the possible lethal dose.
We urgently need to increase the pool of expert, clinically prepared people willing to advise people taking potentially harmful drugs. But first we must do something about fentanyl and carfentanil, and everyone must be made aware of the situation.