Fentanyl usage has declined but is being replaced by new substances

Needle exchange.
Needle exchange. Source: ERR

The crowding out of the strong drug fentanyl by the police has led to a steep reduction in drug-related deaths, but new hazardous substances have begun to make their way on to the market.

In 2017 overdoses killed 110 people in Estonia, in 2018 there were 39. While there are no accurate statistics for 2019 yet, experts estimate the number will remain at around 30, ETV's evening news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported on Friday.

Several years ago, the police caught the drug deals who were trading in fentanyl. Urmet Tambre, head of the Northern Prefectural Criminal Bureau, said: "After that, fentanyl has no longer been available on the market in this form. The few dealers have been left behind are being detained and it could be said that there is basically no fentanyl on the Estonian market."

This has brought relief to the ambulance service. Previously, Tallinn had approximately 130 call-outs per month to reports of potential drug overdoses, but now the number has dropped to 30. The ambulance service in Jõhvi, Kiviõli, Kohtla-Järve and Sillmäe in Ida-Viru County made 146 drug-related call-outs in the area in 2017. Last year it was 16.

Head of the ambulance service in Ida-Viru County Lenne Rätsep said: "Both systems are likely to work here - good prevention and very effective police and border guard work."

The state also provides drug addicts and their relatives with naloxone, the same drug used for resuscitation in ambulances. About 700 doses were distributed last year, which were used 113 times.

Aljona Kurbatova, director of the Center for Addiction and Infectious Disease Prevention at the National Institute for Health Development, said the picture of the drug scene is better for several reasons.

"One thing is definitely the lack of availability of substances, police work has resulted in less fentanyl [on the streets]. Another is definitely the availability of a variety of support services, not just naloxone. But naloxone has helped save people's lives, that's clear," Kurbatova said.

But now police are worried about new drugs coming out - for example, in Russia, alpha-PVP called UFO or bath salt has reached Estonia.

Tambre said: "A white, a very dangerous substance with the appearance of a bath salt, turns people into a zombie, destroys the body, is very addictive, etc. It's a very dangerous substance. This is a warning to everyone if it is in a crystalline substance, definitely do not try it."

Kurbatova said new drugs mean new challenges and there is no good overview of users of the new drugs or substances. 

"Looking at how vigorously other stimulant users have come to us, at some point we may discover that our problem has shifted to a completely different area," Kurbatova said.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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