Should Czechia fear fentanyl crisis like that seen in US?

The powerful narcotic fentanyl has had a devastating impact in the US, contributing to record overdose numbers. Just last week the first fentanyl-related deaths in Czechia were reported in the media. So should the authorities be worried about a similar crisis in this country? I spoke to Viktor Mravčík, an expert on drug addiction.  

Viktor Mravčík | Photo: Matěj Skalický,  Czech Radio

“Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It’s part of the family of opiates, which are derivatives from natural opium. Like morphine, for example, or codeine and heroin.

“Fentanyl is used in medicine as a pharmaceutical drug, but in recent years it’s also misused, so it’s used a similar context as heroin or other illicit opioids.”

How has it contributed so much to these record drug deaths in the US?

“Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have contributed to the so-called third wave of the opioid epidemic in the US.

“And how? There is simply a supply of illicit synthetic opioids including fentanyl and its derivatives on the US and North American illicit market and there is demand for opioids.

“This is part of the context of this overdose crisis.”

There have been reports recently of a small numbers of fentanyl deaths in Czechia. Is it possible to know if this drug, or an illegal version of this drug, is being produced in this country?

Fentanyl | Photo: alarsenault,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“In the Czech Republic we have a bit of a different story. If we compare the situation in North America, in the US, and the Czech Republic, the rate of fatal overdoses is much lower in the Czech Republic.

“In Europe in general the situation is much better than in the US, with a much lower overdose rate. In the Czech Republic, fentanyl contributes to overdose mortality very marginally, I would say. The majority of illicit drugs overdoses in the Czech Republic are caused by methamphetamine.

“As for the source of fentanyl, the situation is also different in the Czech Republic from in the US. In the Czech Republic, the source is mainly fentanyl patches, for analgesia, which are diverted from pharmaceutical sources. Or fentanyl is derived from used patches, or plasters.

“But the number of users in the Czech Republic who report fentanyl as a primary drug is very low.”

So from what you’re saying the Czech authorities don’t really have any reason to fear a similar kind of epidemic like we’ve seen in the US?

“Fortunately the situation is stable and the overdose rate and fatal overdose rate are much lower.

“But we have to be aware of new synthetic opioids coming to the market. There are a number of them being monitored in the EU and also in the Czech Republic.

“Still we can say that demand for opioids on the illicit market is quite high. We estimate that around 10,000 or 11,000 people are using opioids by injection or in intensive pattern of use. So there is quite a stable population for the opioids.”