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UK cracks down on synthetic opioids 10 times more potent than fentanyl, causing overdoses in Europe

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Colorado Law Enforcement Warns of Recent Appearance of Opioids in Overdose Toxicology Reports

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London – As authorities crack down on the distribution of fentanyl and the amount of heroin produced in Afghanistan declines under Taliban rule, criminal enterprises have turned to a deadly alternative. Some health agencies in Europe are reporting an increase in deaths and overdoses from a type of synthetic opioid that could be hundreds of times more potent than heroin and up to forty times more potent than fentanyl.

2-Benzylbenzimidazole opioids, commonly known as nitrazinesare a class of synthetic compounds developed in the 1950s as painkillers, but never approved for use as medicine.

Because of their potency, compared to natural opioids such as heroin or morphine, they can be much more addictive and more dangerous. Nitazines have been associated with a significantly higher proportion of overdose deaths in Estonia and Lithuania, as well as overdoses in Ireland and the French island of Réunion.

The growing consumption of these drugs has has also been observed in the United Stateswhere they have been nicknamed “Frankenstein opioids” in recent years, and they have been labeled a public health problem by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Alex Krotulski, 32, associate director and forensic toxicologist
Alex Krotulski, 32, associate director and forensic toxicologist, holds a sample of nitazene powder at the Forensic Science Research and Education Center, October 20, 2023, in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

Joe Lamberti for the Washington Post/Getty


“Nitazenes pose a credible threat and… predicted changes in the availability of heroin in Europe could herald an increase in the consumption of synthetic opioids with profound implications for public health,” the European Observatory wrote of drugs and addiction in a letter to the Lancet. public health journal in February. “We cannot assume that existing approaches to addressing opioid-related problems will be sufficient without adapting to the challenges posed by the emergence of a range of highly potent but pharmacologically diverse substances.”

On Wednesday, the British government announced it was classifying 14 nitazenes as Class A drugs, meaning they will be subject to the strictest controls alongside fentanyl, “in order to prevent drug-related deaths.” in the UK and ensure that anyone caught supplying these substances faces serious penalties. “

“Synthetic opioids are significantly more toxic than heroin and have caused thousands of deaths overseas,” British Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said in a statement. “We are determined to ensure that these destructive and deadly drugs do not gain a foothold in our communities across the UK.”

Dr. Adam Holland, a drug researcher at the University of Bristol in England, wrote a commentary in the Lancet in January saying that nitazenes had been detected in other drugs sold like other opioids, as well as benzodiazepines and cannabis products, meaning users might not be aware of them. the risks they face.


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Holland said the gap in the European heroin market created by the Taliban’s crackdown on production in Afghanistan could lead to a boom in nitazenes across Europe.

“Without concerted action, nitazenes could devastate communities of people who use a variety of drugs, including those who rarely use them or who obtain benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers over the Internet,” Holland warned.

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