In the News: Nitazenes, The Next ‘Big’ Thing?

As the United States struggles to get a handle on the illicit use of the synthetic opioid, Fentanyl, another new and even more dangerous type of illicit synthetic opioid looms ominously on the horizon.  These drugs, known as nitazenes have emerged in recent years throughout the country, but most notably in areas of the South, Midwest and now prominently around our Nation’s capital.

According to Jamie K. Alan, an associate professor in the department of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, “Nitazenes are a specific subclass of opioids that work on a particular opioid receptor.” (U.S.New & World Report, May 26th, 2022)  What makes these particular synthetic opioids “illicit” themselves, is that unlike fentanyl, nitazenes were never approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and are therefore, not used for any legitimate medical reasons.  Some of the forms of nitazenes are up to 800 more potent than morphine and about 40 times as lethal as fentanyl, making them absolutely lethal. In fact, the researchers who began developing nitazenes about 60 years ago from synthetic compounds, abandoned the idea that they could replace morphine, because of the incredibly high risk of overdose.

Today, most nitazenes are being sourced from China (DEA, June 01, 2022) and are being mixed in with heroin, and fentanyl to appear as street drugs, with deadly consequences. In some cases,  nitazenes are being pressed into molds to look like pharmaceutical medications like oxycodone and Dilaudid.

Why is it important to keep informed about this new class of synthetic opioids?  According to Jarod Forget, Special Agent in charge of the DEA ( Drug Enforcement Administration)  Washington Division, “If we can educate and inform our communities about the dangers of taking counterfeit prescription pills or other drugs, we stem the proliferation of these deadly opioids, stop all of these senseless deaths, and help keep our neighbors and loved ones safe.” (DEA, June 01, 2022)

The presence of nitazenes, along with the proliferation of illegal fentanyl, are a reminder of the danger of taking drugs that have not been prescribed by your doctor. “People have to keep in mind, with all the synthetic drugs out there, and the way they’re being mixed together, you never know what you’re actually buying,” says DEA Intelligence Analyst Maura Gaffney. (DEA, June 01, 2022)  A chilling reminder, indeed!

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