Health professionals call for a plan as Fentanyl arrives in New Zealand

Health professionals are pushing for more access to opioid-blocking medication in New Zealand, amid fears the fentanyl drug epidemic could spread here from overseas.

Figures released to Newshub show there have been 21 deaths relating to two different types of opiates here in the past two years.

"This is a really important lifesaving drug, so overdose is totally unnecessary, because it can be reversed," says Needle Exchange Programme executive director Karthryn Leafe.

Said to be up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, fentanyl has killed thousands in the US.

Opioid addiction is now considered an epidemic overseas and fentanyl has made its way to New Zealand. 

"Fentanyl in New Zealand is mainly available in patch form, and those patches get cut up and prepared for purposes for injection," said Ms Leafe.

"So you don't actually know how much fentanyl is in the dosage you're taking and in the patch you secured it from."

Figures released to Newshub show, between July 2015 and June 2017, there were 21 deaths from fentanyl and tramadol overdoses in New Zealand.

The Needle Exchange says hotspots are already emerging.

"It tends to be in the regions," sayd Ms Leafe. "It's appeared in both the North Island and the South Island, and the regions do tend to move around to what's available at the time and when."

Just a quarter of a milligram - that's about few grains of salt - can kill you.

Just touching it is deadly - one US police officer died from brushing the drug's residue off his uniform. 

It's not yet widely available here, but the NZ Drug Foundation warns we need to be ready for a crisis.

"We aren't prepared and I want to see some leadership from the new Government to make sure we do get prepared," said Ross Bell from the Drug Foundation.

Which is why they're working with the Needle Exchange on a plan to make the remedy Naloxone available for free in New Zealand.

"This is really, really important we make it happen in NZ, particularly if fentanyl comes into NZ in increasing numbers," said Mr Bell.

They hope that might save the lives of at least some of those who take too much.