HealthDay News — Nitazenes, powerful illicit synthetic opioids, are increasingly being added into heroin and street versions of opioid pills and triggering fatal overdoses, according to research published in the September 16 issue of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“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,” explained a team of researchers from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Deaths linked to drugs are on the rise. In their report issued September 16, Jessica Korona-Bailey and colleagues said that “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.”

Overall, deaths in Tennessee known to be linked to the synthetic opioids rose from 10 in 2020 to 42 one year later, with a majority of those killed being young men (average age 40 years). Unfortunately, naloxone may not help if given in a single dose in cases involving nitazenes. “Naloxone has been effective in reversing nitazene-involved overdoses, but multiple doses might be needed,” the Tennessee researchers advised.

The growing danger of nitazene-tainted opioids in illicit drug supply is not specific to Tennessee, of course. In June, the Washington, D.C.-based branch of the US Drug Enforcement Agency issued an alert on the same class of drugs being spotted in that area. “A drug that was never approved for medical use, nitazenes are being sourced from China and being mixed into other drugs,” the DEA explained in a statement.

So far, the spread of nitazenes remains relatively low, but “we want to get this info out and warn people,” said Jarod Forget, special agent in charge of the DEA 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.”

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