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24 September 2014
Science & Nature: TV & Radio Follow-upScience & Nature
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Moscow theatre siege reconstruction
BBC Two, Thursday 15 January 2004, 9pm
The Moscow Theatre Siege
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The Moscow Theatre Siege - questions and answers

Was this the first time a gas was used in this way?

This was the first time that gas had been used to relieve a hostage situation.

Was there any truth in the statement that the hostages that died already had illnesses like bronchial asthma and heart disease?

This is an unfounded statement issued by the authorities. Relatives of the victims insisted that family members who perished had no symptoms of illness prior the event – some victims had even had recent medical tests.

How does fentanyl work?

Fentanyl is an analgesic that provides intense pain relief with a degree of sedation and cardiac stability. It’s a predictable drug, and is easily reversible with the administration of naloxone, an antidote. Fentanyl causes pain relief by depressing certain parts of the brain. This includes the part of the brain that causes the body to breathe – a potentially fatal side effect.

Why does fentanyl stop you breathing?

Fentanyl is an opioid. One of the symptoms of opioids is to slow respiratory rate. Fentanyl reduces the body’s response to carbon dioxide which normally stimulates the body to breathe. It is usually administered as an anaesthetic, where a patients breathing is individually monitored and assisted mechanically where necessary.

How do antidotes like naloxone work?

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, often used to reverse the effects of heroin and other opioids. It works by effectively, knocking the fentanyl off the receptor in the body, and binding to that receptor in its place, quickly reversing the effects of the fentanyl.

Was it the people closest to the vents where the gas entered that died?

Those nearest to the point of entry of the gas would have received an overdose.

If the Russians did use fentanyl why didn’t it show up in Professor Zilker’s tests, and the tests carried out in the UK?

It’s possible that fentanyl did not show up in the tests as it has a short half-life in the body: it is metabolised by the body very quickly. It’s possible therefore that the Zilker samples, taken 24 hours after the release of the hostages, were taken too late.

Would BIMU8 have affected whether the Fentanyl showed up in Zilker’s tests, and the tests carried out in the UK?

BIMU8 is a very new substance still under research. It is a stimulant that could effectively separate analgesia (pain relief) from respiratory depression. If it was simply mixed with fentanyl there is no reason why it would affect whether the Fentanyl showed up in the tests. However if BIMU8 was used in conjunction with fentanyl to create an entirely new compound, fentanyl would not be detected by the tests carried out by Zilker and at the laboratory in the UK because the tests need to be searching for specific compounds, rather than for generically similar compounds.

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