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Synthetic opioids concerning for youth in Tower Hamlets

As synthetic substances become increasingly available, concerns over substance misuse in Tower Hamlets grow.

An East London doctor has warned there is a ‘real concern’ for young people and the rise of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. He claims they are becoming ‘increasingly available’.

Dr Somen Banerjee was asked by the council about the growing concerns of substance misuse within Tower Hamlets and whether he knew how many young people have been impacted.

Dr Banerjee, who is acting corporate director for health, adults and community, explained that the borough is seeing ‘significantly higher levels’ of substance misuse following a needs assessment that was carried out this year.

‘The real concern at the moment particularly with young people is either new synthetic substances which are becoming increasingly available so synthetic opioids like fentanyl and nitazenes – that’s one area of concern,’ he told the Health and Adults Scrutiny Sub Committee on Tuesday evening, June 4th.

Synthetic opioids are man-made drugs that imitate the effects of natural opioids such as heroin or opium. They have been found in batches of heroin across London and the UK.

Healthcare professionals have warned that synthetic opioids are far more potent and dangerous than heroin, and there is a greater risk of overdosing or death.

In October 2023, a police raid in Waltham Forest found 150,000 tablets of nitazene tablets in a ‘sophisticated factory’ set-up, resulting in the arrests of eleven people.

Detective Superintendent Helen Rance who was leading the investigation, said in November 2023: ‘Synthetic opioids have been detected in batches of heroin found in London and across the UK; they substantially raise the risk of incredibly serious harm to the user and are believed to be linked to a number of deaths.

‘We are working closely with partners to monitor and proactively tackle this issue, provide advice and remove the availability of these dangerous drugs from our streets.’

Dr Banerjee said there are also concerns with vaping and the substances found within them such as ‘high strength cannabis’ and referred to children who were hospitalised earlier this year. 

The teens from Eltham in South East London were found to be smoking vapes that were laced with spice, a type of synthetic cannabinoid.

Dr Banerjee said: “This is a really high-risk area for us and we want to make sure that we are informing schools and informing the public about the risks and are able to address this as a [Combating] Drugs Partnership.”

He went on to say that the borough is in the process of recommissioning its substance misuse service for young people.

Last year the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) spoke with a grassroots community organisation, Coffee Afrik, who believe synthetic opioids and other substances are causing irreparable damage to those who normally use heroin or crack in Tower Hamlets.

In a report with MyLondon, Coffee Afrik’s founder Abdi Hassan said the Taliban’s ban on growing and farming opium poppies in Afghanistan in April 2022 had slowed the supply of heroin to the UK. ‘It makes sense with the synthetic [opioids] that are being cut’, he said.

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