Sitting in a rehab centre in rural NSW, Peter, 26, talks about the time he watched his mate overdose on fentanyl while his mate’s mother was in the next room.

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“One fella, it was just me and him in the bathroom, I had mine and he had his and I looked at him and he starts sliding down the wall.

“I didn’t want to go and tell his mother because he already lost a son to overdose.

“So I had to just drag him up into bed.”

The man survived, and came looking for Peter an hour later for another hit.

As the ice epidemic gains national attention, another form of drug abuse is silently killing regional and rural Australians.

Overdoses from the opioid fentanyl – which is 100 times more potent than morphine – have attracted a police crackdown and a call for greater attention on pharmaceutical drug addiction.

Fentanyl is typically prescribed by doctors to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery.

In Dubbo, in central west NSW, police have dealt with 11 fentanyl overdoses in the past seven months alone.

Three were fatal.

Further north in Moree, police carried out raids on alleged fentanyl dealers in May after three deaths and 25 non-fatal overdoses in two years.

Experts say the problem is on par – yet gains a lot less of the spotlight – than the ice scourge gripping the nation.

Wellington man, 26-year-old Peter Smith, can attest to that.

The father-of-two checked himself into rehab more than a month ago after his partner gave him an ultimatum – family or drugs.

He began using cannabis at 15 but moved onto prescription drugs and later ice and heroin.

He has known a handful of people who have overdosed on fentanyl and believes it is the hardest drug to get clean from.

“I used to wake up and you just couldn’t do anything if you didn’t have it, you couldn’t get out of bed,” he said at the Orana Haven Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre in north west NSW.

“Everyone I know was on it, it was bad.”

Users douse the patches, commonly bought in quarters from dealers for about $50 a pop, mainly in vinegar to draw the drug out before cooking it over high heat.

However, paramedics have told AAP of washing powder, lemon juice and urine being used to extract the drug before it is injected.

Dr Julaine Allan, who researched fentanyl abuse in rural Australia, said the drug was highly addictive and tolerance was built up quickly.

“There is a narrow window between feeling good and dying,” said Dr Allan, from The Lyndon Community in Orange.

She said statistics suggested there were the same amount of people abusing opioids as they were ice.

“There will be for more deaths associated with opioid use than ice,” she said.

The researcher said all the fentanyl users from regional NSW involved in her 2014 study knew people who had died from overdosing on the drug.

In his hometown, north of Dubbo, Peter said patches were the drug of choice.

His crippling poly-drug addiction saw him resort to stealing to fund the habit after he would blow his $500 Centrelink payments.

He’s got a three-month stint in the rehab centre to help clean up his addiction.

Set in peaceful surrounding, overlooking the Bogan River, Orana Haven is for Aboriginal people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.

Residents learn about community, making healthy choices, putting order into their lives and what it means to have personal responsibility.

Peter is now working on being the best man he can be to his wife and kids.

THE FACTS OF FENTANYL ABUSE IN AUSTRALIA

– Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, approximately 100 times stronger than morphine, and most commonly comes in a patch form.

– Vinegar, alcohol and other acidic fluids are used to draw out the drug from a patch before it is cooked over a high heat and injected. Researches say acidic injections increase risk of vein damage and infections.

– Patches are often sold in quarters – worth about three hits – by drug dealers for about $50.

– A 2014 study of non-medical use of fentanyl in rural Australia found the patches were easy to get and users had never been medically prescribed the opioid.

– Overdoses are a common occurrence but don’t reduce the likelihood of use.

– Tolerance of the drug is built up quickly.

Source: The Lyndon Community

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