THE painkilling drug fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin.

Recent statistics show that 60 users in the UK have now died from its side effects.

In the North-East, which has the highest rate of drug deaths of any region in England, six people have died from taking fentanyl and its variants in the Stockton area alone.

The drug, which is often cut with heroin, has been linked to hundreds of deaths in the US.

It is so potent that police officers often have to wear protective clothing to handle the substance – it can be absorbed through the skin, and even the tiniest amount can be fatal.

The UK’s National Crime Agency, which is still investigating a number of deaths thought to be fentanyl-related, has accused dealers of playing “Russian roulette” with users’ lives.

Ross Brennan, 28, from York, is one of those dealers. He mixed drugs to sell, including fentanyl, hiding behind what he thought was the anonymity of online trading, spending his profits on watches, gold, drugs and prostitutes.

York Crown Court heard that three of his customers had died, although it could not be proved the drugs he supplied were to blame.

Brennan continued to sell the drugs regardless, even while on bail. Jailing him for 13 years and eight months yesterday for charges including possessing and distributing indecent images of children, Judge Andrew Stubbs QC condemned him as “sophisticated” and “arrogant”.

The justice system often comes in for criticism for what are perceived to be soft sentences, but the lengthy term given to Brennan should serve as a warning to those who supply such dangerous drugs – if the risk of having blood on their hands is not enough to stop them.