Family and friends of heroin users are being targeted in a public awareness campaign about a lethal drug that is up to 600 times stronger than morphine.
Fentanyl, an opiate drug similar to heroin, has been linked to five deaths — three in Dublin and two in Cork over the last three months.
The HSE is anxious that heroin users fully know about fentanyl as even the smallest amount can kill.
Public health medicine consultant with the HSE, Joe Barry, said their role was to make everyone aware of fentanyl.
“A prime target group for our alert are the families of people who use heroin because they are in a better position to alert individuals than anyone else,” he said.
The HSE fears that a lot of people at risk of dying from an overdose are not in touch with the health service.
“Overdose results in respiratory depression which is reversible with naloxone,” said Prof Barry.
“Our role is to try and prevent any more deaths and the way to do that is to appeal directly to the families of drug users.”
HSE national clinical lead for addiction, Eamon Keenan, said heroin users were especially vulnerable. They may be buying heroin, unaware it contains fentanyl.
Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Dr Keenan said the health authorities wanted to give out a harm reduction message to heroin users.
“Be very sure about what you are buying and who you are buying from,” he said. “This drug may mimic the effects of heroin, but it is much more potent.”
Toxicology reports linked the five recent deaths with fentanyl. It was also found beside the bodies of some of the people who died of an overdose.
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