Deadly spike in UK drug deaths tied to potent synthetic opioids

Nitazenes can be added to ecstasy tablets
Nitazenes can be added to ecstasy tablets
Images source: © @wedinos.org

9:17 AM EDT, June 4, 2024

In the United Kingdom, new synthetic opioids are taking a deadly toll. What are nitazenes and why are they so dangerous?

The National Crime Agency in the United Kingdom has reported that a new substance on the black market has been linked to 176 deaths in the UK. Forty-seven of these occurred in Scotland, which ranks first in Europe for drug-related deaths. The substance in question is nitazenes, which can be added to tablets like ecstasy.

Deadly dangerous nitazenes

Nitazenes are synthetic opioids that were developed in the late 1950s. Their chemical structure differs from other opioid drugs like fentanyl and morphine. The potency of some nitazenes can be up to 500 times greater than heroin. Initially, they were intended to be used as another drug for combating severe pain. However, it turned out that their use is associated with a significant risk of side effects, including a real threat to life due to respiratory problems. Nitazenes are not used in medicine today.

Nitazenes will be added to illegal drugs

Director General of the Crime Agency, Graeme Biggar, emphasized that the reported deaths due to nitazenes are only those that have been "caught" during autopsies. The actual number of fatalities from taking this opioid is probably higher. Biggar warned that the problem will deepen. He stated, "We must disrupt this process as much as possible, but it is difficult because these drugs are cheap and small. For organized criminals, it is a really good way to grow their business."

For bbc.com, the problem was commented on by a volunteer from the charity Aid and Abet, which helps addicts. The woman herself was addicted to opioids and survived nine overdoses. She explained why strong synthetic drugs are hazardous for people addicted to opioids. She noted, "The addiction is so powerful that you will do anything to get drugs, regardless of whether they contain nitazenes or not. It is like Russian roulette. You have to get drugs no matter what."

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