THE chief executive of a drugs charity is calling for immediate action to prevent the spread of fentanyl in Gwent.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic, originally created for surgery recovery and treatment of short-term pain.

The drug appears to have caused a crisis in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculating a 200 per cent increase in the rate of deaths involving opioids since 2000.

Thousands of deaths in the US are believed to have been caused by it.

Martin Blakebrough, who is the chief executive of Newport-based drug clinic and charity Kleidoscope, previously raised his concerns of the drug being widely used in the US, fearing it could later become easily available in Gwent.

He said: “We are worried about fentanyl because the potential is very damaging.

“We are concerned about how big of a risk it is – if it hit the streets, there would be deaths and that is why we are terrified.

“In the north-west of England, there have been some deaths due to fentanyl.”

He added that the charity was not then aware of the drug being used in Gwent.

The National Crime Agency noted that from the beginning of 2017, it had seen an increase in drug-related deaths which were linked to fentanyl and carfentanyl.

The number of deaths stands at 113 nationwide - these deaths have been linked to synthetic opioids as a result of toxicology tests.

And now Mr Blakebrough, who lives in Monmouth, has revealed the charity has been dealing with

four to five cases of people taking the drug in Gwent.

“When I was asked by the Argus last year if I thought fentanyl was a problem in Gwent I said it was

not,” said Mr Blakebrough. “We had no cases of people using the drug when I was interviewed.

“What I am now saying, however, it is a problem but not a major one. So there has been a shift between 2017 to now.

“We have four or five taking it here in Gwent.”

The 55-year-old warned people not to be tempted to take the deadly drug.

“Fentanyl is a problem,” he said. “I am worried about it and it is a risk to everyone who takesit.

“It certainly is not a party drug, like ecstasy. It is rather like heroin so the total opposite to a party

drug. It chills the person out.

“I cannot stress enough how dangerous it can be. It has been in the news quite a bit about the tragic deaths which have been caused by the drug.”

The deadly drug hit the headlines again this month after a drug dealer was jailed for eight years for using the dark web to sell it.

Cardiff Crown Court heard Kyle Enos, of Newport, used hidden online market sites to sell the drug.

The 25-year-old made thousands of pounds by selling to dozens of online customers.

After officers searched his flat last year, they tracked down his customers and discovered that four had died through overdoses.

Three of the customers were all men, aged 23, 25 and 34, from Wales.

The fourth customer was a man from Scotland, whose death is still being investigated.

Cardiff Crown Court heard there was no evidence to say that their deaths were directly linked to drugs that Enos sold them.

Now Mr Blakebrough is calling for action to stop more people being tempted to take the drug.

He said: “We do need to tackle the problem right now.

“The most important way of being able to stop people from taking it is to explain how deadly it is. “It has been reported quite a lot in the media of people who have died from the drug. Even a small quantity is enough to kill someone.

“By spreading that message hopefully people will not be tempted to take it.

“Also, in terms of preventing deaths, we need more equipment to help people who have taken the drug. We tend to use naloxone to help the person and we need more of it.”

He added: “We need to act now before this issue escalates into something major.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The influx and use of the drug fentanyl is being monitored across Wales.

“Following a confirmed death in Wales, in May last year Public Health Wales issued an alert to stakeholders outlining the available information relating to fentanyl along with appropriate harm reduction advice for dissemination. This would be supplemented by increased awareness, vigilance and naloxone provision amongst all relevant health and social care professionals.

“In addition, the WEDINOS programme identifies the composition of psychoactive material and provides advice and guidance for all partners, including the prison estate, specifically when samples are presented for analysis.”

In recent years, fentanyl’s prevalence has grown considerably – especially in the USA. The drug is abused as a substance on its own but it is also commonly detected as an additive in heroin.

Mr Blakebrough said it is a “big worry” that people could start lacing the drug with heroin.

“People who take heroin tend to mix it with other substances,” he said. “The big worry is if fentanyl finds itself into the opium market. If that happened it would be extremely dangerous. Heroin is deadly on its own, let alone with fentanyl mixed with it.

“Thankfully this does not seem to have happened. But that does not mean it will not happen at a later point.”

The chief executive added that he believes that people take fentanyl for a range of reasons, including it “being cheaper”.

“From the people we have dealt with we know that people take it for a few reasons,” he said.

“Firstly it seems to be cheaper than other drugs and they can get it quite easily over the web.

“And for some drug users, they do not know entirely what they are taking.

“That is why it is so important that we warn people of the dangers of taking fentanyl because it will allow them to think twice before taking it.”

A spokeswoman from Gwent Police said it was “aware” that the drug is being used in local communities.

She said: “Gwent Police is aware of Fentanyl and its use as an elicit controlled drug by a very small minority of people within our communities but this is still a rare event.

“We continue to monitor intelligence concerning drug use to identify any emerging issues and we appreciate the work of Kaleidoscope in raising awareness about the dangers of such a drug and their continuing invaluable work in substance misuse.”