DRUG FEARS REVIVED: Fentanyl deaths prompt overdose warning

THREE Border people have died and others have narrowly escaped with their lives in a recent series of overdoses of the potent painkiller fentanyl.

The overdoses have prompted a leading drug agency to send an urgent warning to the NSW and Victorian governments.

Drug clinicians, paramedics and police in the region fear there may be further deaths on a par with a spate of overdoses in 2011-12, when 10 people died in Albury-Wodonga.

There have been at least four non-fatal overdoses in the past three weeks.

“We don’t want to be looking at the coroner’s court database and see a spike in narcotic overdoses and we did nothing about it,” Albury ambulance duty operations manager Laurie Evans said.

He said of the four recent overdoses, one last Thursday night involved a man who overdosed twice in 12 hours.

Victorian-based public health group Anex will write to the NSW and Victorian governments to alert them to the recent overdoses.

“It is timely that we again seek their assistance in investigating sources of the fentanyl so that all doctors in the area are aware that with a drug of this potency, extra care needs to be taken when considering prescribing it,” chief executive John Ryan said.

In 2012 and 2013, NSW Health investigated allegations of inappropriate prescribing of fentanyl by medical practitioners in the Albury-Wodonga area after the 2011-12 overdoses.

A department spokeswoman said three practitioners were referred to the Medical Council of NSW and they were prohibited from prescribing fentanyl patches.

“The monitoring of the prescribing of fentanyl patches and other opioid drugs liable to abuse is ongoing,” the spokeswoman said.

Mr Ryan said Anex would re-activate the fentanyl monitoring and response network triggered by the 2012 awareness forum that was aimed at practitioners.

“We cannot wait until another overdose epidemic occurs,” he said.

“Anex will be urgently reconvening the group to get an update on the situation so that details can be conveyed to government quickly.”

Wodonga police Detective Sgt Graeme Simpfendorfer said officers investigated two fatal fentanyl overdoses in December, while Albury paramedics said they were called to another fatal overdose two months ago.

Barnawartha mother Sharryn Roach found the body of her son Geofrey Saunders, 31, in his room in Barnawartha on Christmas Eve with discarded fentanyl patches and a syringe beside him.

She said her son had forged a letter from a specialist so he could obtain a prescription from a GP.

She said Mr Saunders had extracted the potent drug from the patches and injected it into his veins to get a high.

Albury-based Murrumbidgee Health clinical leader Alan Fisher said intervention two years ago through media reports, doctor education and the forum, meant the Border went for almost two years without a fentanyl fatality.

Mr Fisher, who treats people with drug addiction, said that series of deaths had taught clinicians it was crucial to be on the front foot now with the latest reports.

“We need to keep this on the agenda,” Mr Fisher said.