WODONGA police have charged a Border man with trafficking the deadly painkiller fentanyl in a ground-breaking development in the fight against its abuse.
It could be the first time someone has been charged with trafficking fentanyl in Victoria, according to the public health group Anex, which has led the charge in reducing abuse of the painkiller that is 100 times stronger than morphine.
“I am not aware of anyone having been prosecuted for trafficking fentanyl in Victoria before,” Anex chief executive John Ryan said.
Wodonga detectives arrested a man, 38, from the Albury-Wodonga area, on Tuesday last week and charged him with trafficking a drug of dependence.
He was bailed and will face the Wodonga Magistrates Court for the first time in relation to the matter on April 8.
Police will allege the man supplied fentanyl to Wodonga man Mark Camilleri, 43, who injected the drug and died of a heart attack in his Wodonga unit on December 3.
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A coroner has requested further police investigation into circumstances that led to Mr Camilleri’s death before a finding is made.
Mr Camilleri was the third person to have died after injecting fentanyl in Albury-Wodonga since December during a series of overdoses that has raised fears there may be further deaths on par with the 2011-12 spate where 10 people died on the Border.
“We’re concerned there will be more,” Detective Sgt Graeme Simpfendorfer said.
“There is a market out there for it and criminals are profiting from it.
“There is a black market in Albury-Wodonga where people are selling not only prescribed fentanyl patches, but also oxycontin and seroquel.”
The Border is one of the first places in the country to experience a spate of fentanyl fatalities and Mr Ryan said the problem is growing, with paramedics attending fentanyl overdoses in other regional areas in Victoria.
It again raises the question of government intervention, and a spokeswoman for the federal department of health yesterday said a real-time prescription drug database is being installed and is waiting for each state and territory to roll it out.
The Electronic Recording and Reporting of Controlled Drugs system should allow patient records of prescriptions to be accessed by doctors and pharmacists to help determine whether abuse is occurring.
Mr Ryan said a real-time prescription monitoring system was only part of the solution.
“There needs to be more patient education about the drugs that are being prescribed, and greater information for those accessing the drugs through the local black markets,” he said.
Sgt Simpfendorfer said some who are abusing fentanyl are doctor-shopping between clinics on the Border, lying about chronic pain problems to obtain a prescription.
The drugs cost about $10 on prescription and are being on-sold for about $100 for a 50-microgram patch.
Simply giving a person fentanyl can constitute trafficking and if it then causes death reckless manslaughter charges can result.