Nitazenes, A New Drug with Fentanyl–Like Potency Hits the Streets
The rise of illicit synthetic drug abuse in the U.S. has brought two harsh truths together:
1). There is a growing technological ability of clandestine drug labs to produce highly addictive and dangerous synthetic drugs.
2). Meanwhile, there is a growing demand among the addicted population for stronger, more potent, and more intensely mind-altering drugs.
A recent story out of Tennessee paints a grim picture of these harsh truths, and that story began with a new drug called nitazenes. Said to be stronger than fentanyl, nitazenes are already causing addiction and overdoses throughout the South and along the East Coast.
What Are Nitazenes?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an emergency brief on September 16th, 2022, alerting the public to a new drug threat. The threat involved a drug category called ‘nitazenes.’ According to the CDC’s findings, nitazenes refer to a group of powerful synthetic opioids. For additional data about nitazenes:
Nitazenes were initially created as a legal pain relief narcotic. However, the drug was never fully approved for human use. Today, the drug is made in clandestine drug labs.
Lab results indicate that certain nitazene analogs are more potent than fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
One dose of the opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone likely won’t be enough to revive an addict from a nitazene overdose, thus exacerbating risk factors and putting the lives of addicts in even greater danger.
Though exact overdose numbers are unknown, nitazenes are increasingly recorded in toxicology reports and in death certificate cause-of-death fields.
Nitazene overdoses almost always involve other substances, making it increasingly difficult to trace down where the nitazenes are coming from and what drugs they’re being mixed into without addicts knowing.
A Breaking News Story from the South
The word “nitazene” is completely unknown to most Americans, including individuals who are already addicted to drugs. Sadly, nitazenes are increasingly being found mixed into various drug supplies, especially in synthetic opioid batches made in clandestine drug labs and in batches of heroin.
A breaking news story from September 2022 shows nitazenes are increasingly cropping up in overdose victim toxicology reports, especially in Tennessee and other southern states.
Tennessee researchers are worried because nitazene analogs pose a threat to Tennesseans that neither the addicts nor the public health institutions in the state are in any way prepared for. Quoting Jessica Korona-Bailey, a study author with a team of researchers from the Tennessee Department of Health, “Laboratory test results indicate that the potency of certain nitazene analogs [e.g., isotonitazene, protonitazene, and etonitazene] greatly exceeds that of fentanyl, whereas the potency of the analog metonitazene is similar to fentanyl. Four times as many nitazene-involved overdoses were identified in Tennessee in 2021 than in 2020, and this number could be underestimated because of low testing frequency.” These findings come on the heels of other newly announced information that suggests synthetic opioid overdose deaths in Tennessee more than quadrupled between 2020 and 2021.
Just as there have been numerous reports indicating fentanyl is now being mixed into supplies of cocaine, meth, and cannabis, it seems there is now a potent super opioid, nitazene analogs, being mixed into opioid batches to make the dosages more potent. Doing so allows dealers to sell a smaller quantity of a more addictive product but still make the same (or more) profit. Further, such developments show addicts can never truly know what is in the drugs they are buying, as any drug could have a potent, potentially lethal analog mixed into it.
The Spread of Nitazenes and Implications for the Future
Tennessee is not the only state raising the alarm over the spread of a new synthetic opioid into the drug supply. The Drug Enforcement Administration has put out several warnings for communities across the south and along the eastern seaboard, indicating that batches of synthetic opioids seized all across the eastern U.S. have tested positive for nitazenes.
“We want to get this info out and warn people. 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.”
According to the DEA, while interdiction efforts help, the only sure way to protect people from nitazenes is to ensure Americans are adequately informed about the risks of drugs. To that point, Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Washington Division, was available for comment. “We want to get this info out and warn people. 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.” With that in mind, it is of the utmost importance that Tennessee families ensure that loved ones and friends are warned about the dangerous spread of lethal additives into the drug supply. Tennesseans must do everything within their power to ensure their family members and loved ones who are addicted to drugs receive professional help.
Drug Addiction Is Becoming More Dangerous; the Need for Effective Treatment Options
Every time a new synthetic compound is introduced into the drug supply, addicts suffer and often pay the ultimate price, as their bodies are unprepared for the new drug. Most of the time, the addicts don’t even know the new compound is in their drugs. The rapid spread of nitazenes into seized drug batches across the U.S., often labeled as Dilaudid or Oxycontin, indicates addicts believe they are taking a drug they are accustomed to when really they are consuming a counterfeit hybrid that may have fatal effects.
As drug abuse has become more dangerous, Americans must do everything possible to help their addicted loved ones enter treatment. Qualified residential drug and alcohol rehab centers provide real tools, life skills, and coping strategies that recovering addicts can use in their day-to-day lives. Such programs put recovering addicts on a safer, healthier path to a better life. If you know someone using drugs, intervene as soon as possible and do everything you can to help them enter treatment. Please don’t wait until they overdose on a nitazene-tainted narcotic.
- CDC. “Notes from the Field: Nitazene-Related Deaths — Tennessee, 2019–2021.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. cdc.gov
- USNews. “Experts Say New Street Drug Is ‘as Deadly as Fentanyl.’” U.S. News, 2022. usnews.com
- DEA. “New, Dangerous Synthetic Opioid in D.C., Emerging in Tri-State Area.” Drug Enforcement Administration, 2022. dea.gov