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Deadly Nitazenes Found Among Illicit Street Drugs

Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid about fifty times more powerful than heroin, has been making national headlines for several years due to reports of record-breaking overdose deaths linked to illicit drugs. However, another class of opioids called nitazenes, stronger than fentanyl, is also linked to the four-fold increase in deadly overdoses over the past two years.

What are Nitazenes?

Although nitazenes are new to the street drug trade, they've existed for decades. Nitazenes, also called benzimidazole opioids, were created as synthetic pain relievers nearly sixty years ago but were never approved for use in the United States due to the extreme risk of overdose and misuse. Because the utilization of the drug was abandoned, there hasn't been much research on how these incredibly strong opioids impact the human body, but researchers do know that nitazenes are even more deadly than fentanyl.

Currently, there is no legitimate medical use for nitazenes are they are considered a Schedule 1 drug.

Other names for nitazenes:

  • Isotonitazene or “ISO”

  • Metonitazene

  • Etonitazene

When in powered form, nitazene appears yellow, brown, or off-white in color. It has been found mixed into heroin along with fentanyl. Some parts of the country have seen nitazene pressed into counterfeit pills and falsely sold as a pharmaceutical medication similar to Dilaudid® or oxycodone.

Why are they Dangerous?

Although carfentanil continues to be the most potent opioid, nitazenes are becoming an imminent threat on the street. Some forms of nitazenes are up to 800 times more powerful than morphine and 40 times more than fentanyl. The presence of this illicit synthetic drug on the streets has alarmed authorities because its potency is so high that current overdose reversal methods may be ineffective, and the drug's popularity is increasing. Much like fentanyl, many people dying of nitazene overdose unknowingly ingest the drug. Additionally, many drug testing kits aren't equipped to identify the presence of nitazenes, and people may realize they've consumed a fatal dose when it's too late.

One aspect frustrating researchers is the lack of standardized or centralized mechanisms in place for tracking deaths linked to nitazenes or other synthetic drugs being found on the black market. This roadblock will likely diminish the overdose deaths caused by specific types of synthetic opioids. At this time, it's difficult to pinpoint precisely how many nitazene deaths have occurred since 2019, but estimates range from around 1000-2000 fatalities across the nation.

Is there Treatment for Nitazene Overdose?

First responders fear that the standard dose of the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone may not be enough for nitazene cases. However, with a heightened awareness of the presence of the drug in an increasing number of states, EMTs are prepared to administer larger doses if necessary.

With potent opioids like fentanyl and nitazenes showing up on the streets across the country, opioid addiction treatment has never been more vital to people who may be struggling. Recovery Services of New Mexico clinics offer convenient outpatient opioid use disorder treatment with the help of FDA-approved medication and substance use counseling. The knowledgeable and compassionate staff at every RSONM location understand that addiction is a disease, and they are dedicated to helping every enrolled patient reach long-lasting recovery. To learn more about the programs available, call or message the nearest RSONM location today.


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