THE police officer in charge of tackling organised crime in Southampton has warned that a super-strong drug is beginning to take hold in the city.

Fresh from putting 41 drug dealers in Southampton behind bars in an 18-month operation, one Hampshire police officer is warning that the force must be ready to deal with the influx of fentanyl.

The drug is 100-times stronger than morphine, and carfentanyl is an even stronger version of the original drug.

Being used with heroin and cocaine, it can be mixed with powdered drugs and other substances.

In its legal form, the drug is typically used to treat patients with chronic pain, and binds to opioid receptors in the brain. When bound to the receptors, it increases dopamine levels, ending with the user experiencing a feeling of joy and relaxation.

High doses of the drug can be deadly, as the chemical receptors it binds to in the brain also control breathing rates.

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, who is the head of organised and serious crime in Southampton, said the drug is becoming more common in the city.

Det Supt Barton said: “We are finding it more commonly in Southampton. It’s a cutting agent that is mixed with various drugs, and people don’t know what they’re taking. It’s 100 times stronger than morphine, and people aren’t used to the strength.

“They don’t expect what it is they get, and carfentanyl is even stronger than the main drug.”

The comments came after an 18-month operation titled Shield tore apart a drug network operating in Southampton.

The Liverpool eight brought in five kilos of cocaine and heroin between September 2015 and April 2016, and were sentenced to a total of 59 years.

Det Supt Barton said: “What always happens when you take down one network is that there’s always another drug waiting in the wings to take its place and we have to be ready for that.”

A drug alert had been issued by the drug and rehabilitation service in Southampton last month following evidence of harm from fentanyl-contaminated heroin.

The alert, issued online, said: “These are highly potent synthetic opioids and very small amounts can cause severe of even fatal toxicity.

“Both fentanyl and carfentanil are potent at such low doses that there is a significant risk of death if those drugs are being consumed, even if harm reduction steps are taken.

“It is extremely hard, if not impossible, to tell from sight whether heroin has been mixed with fentanyl or carfentanil.”