Dr Dominic Reynolds, Manager Forensic Chemistry Chemcentre, has recently been quoted (1) as observing an increase in the detection of the powerful synthetic Opioid Fentanyl. This is a prescription painkiller that has similar effects to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. The physiological effects can include nausea, confusion, dizziness, hallucinations and suppressed respiration. The most common form of the medication is Durogesic which is usually in the form of a transdermal patch or Actiq (a lozenge). It is usually only prescribed to manage severe and constant pain.
Fentanyl can also be abused either by elicit sale of pharmaceuticals or illegal manufacture. It is often sold as a substitute for heroine.
In high enough doses Fentanyl can lead to coma and death - as was the case with singer Prince - and up to 10 deaths in Perth in the last six months. It was also recently reported as a significant problem in rural areas such as northern NSW with deaths due to overdose higher in some areas than in Sydney (2).
Fentanyl is a difficult drug to deal with in the workplace. If a worker has been prescribed the medication, a fitness for work assessment would be highly recommended due to the potentially impairing effects of this medication. If it is being abused then it is difficult to detect since it can’t be detected in the normal Australian Standard onsite drug testing devices. There are however laboratory tests available and if a worker is suspected of abusing this or any of the other New Psychoactive Substances(NPS) entering the illicit drug market, an oral fluids or urine sample can be collected and sent to the laboratory for analysis.
DASA can assist your organisation in providing expert scientific, medical and OHS advice in navigating these difficult issues for workplace drug and alcohol programmes.