21 Dec 2023

In recent years, the opioid epidemic has taken a grim toll on communities worldwide, and the United Kingdom is no exception. Amidst the ongoing battle against opioid abuse, a new class of synthetic opioids known as nitazenes has emerged, adding complexity to the already challenging landscape. In this blog post, we delve into the world of nitazenes, exploring their impact on the UK and shedding light on the statistics that underscore the severity of the issue.

According to a new report by the BBC, 'More than 100 deaths have now been linked to synthetic opioids called nitazenes since the summer, according to the National Crime Agency.'

'Dr Mark Pucci says flawed data collection methods mean the numbers are a significant underestimate.'

Most recent figures put the death toll linked to nitazenes across the UK at 101 people - seventy-six of them in England. At least a further 49 cases await further testing.

Understanding Nitazenes:

Nitazenes represent a class of synthetic opioids that have gained notoriety due to their potency and potential for abuse. These substances are chemically engineered to mimic the effects of traditional opioids, such as heroin or prescription painkillers, making them highly sought after in the illicit drug market. Nitazenes pose a significant threat to public health due to their unpredictable nature and the potential for overdose.

The NCA believes nitazenes are being produced in illicit labs in China and often enter the UK in the "post". In most cases, it is then mixed with heroin by organised gangs, strengthening the drugs being sold on the street.

The UK Statistics:

The prevalence of nitazenes in the UK has escalated in recent years, contributing to the growing opioid crisis. According to the latest statistics from the BBC, the following key trends highlight the severity of the issue:

Rising Incidents of Nitazene-Related Overdoses:

The number of reported overdose cases involving nitazenes has witnessed a concerning surge, indicating an alarming trend in the misuse of these synthetic opioids. Nitazenes has been found in drugs such as heroin and benzodiazepines. According to The Scottish Drugs Forum said nitazenes may be present in other drugs including cocaine. However, the true total could be higher - the National Crime Agency (NCA) said 40 more cases awaited further testing. The UK government plans to classify 15 new synthetic opioids as Class A drugs.

Demographic Impact:

Statistics reveal that nitazene abuse is not confined to a specific demographic but affects individuals across various age groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographical locations.

Impact on Emergency Services:

Emergency medical services have experienced a substantial increase in calls related to nitazene overdoses, placing additional strain on healthcare providers and resources.

Geographical Distribution:

Nitazene abuse is not uniform across the UK, with certain regions experiencing a higher prevalence of these synthetic opioids. The number of deaths has been highest in the West Midlands with 17 since June 2023, followed by the East of England with 9. A total across the UK has been 54.

Lethality and Severity:

Nitazenes are associated with a higher risk of fatal overdoses due to their potency. The statistics highlight the severity of the health consequences and the urgent need for effective harm reduction measures. Public Health Scotland (PHS) issued an alert in January after multiple detections in the Lothian, Grampian and Greater Glasgow health boards areas. And in October, PHS updated the alert after the substances were found in post mortem results.

Addressing the Challenge:

The rise of nitazenes presents a multifaceted challenge that requires a comprehensive and collaborative response from policymakers, healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and the community. The following strategies could contribute to mitigating the impact of nitazenes in the UK:

Enhanced Surveillance and Monitoring:

Improve the monitoring of nitazene-related incidents to better understand the evolving landscape of synthetic opioids and inform timely interventions.

Public Awareness Campaigns:

Launch targeted public awareness campaigns to educate communities about the dangers of nitazenes, promote responsible opioid use, and reduce stigma around addiction.

Treatment and Rehabilitation Services:

Strengthen and expand access to treatment and rehabilitation services to support individuals struggling with opioid addiction, including those affected by nitazene abuse.

Legislation and Regulation:

Implement and enforce strict regulations on the production, distribution, and sale of synthetic opioids, including nitazenes, to curb their availability in the illicit market.

Elena Whitham, the Scottish government's drug policy minister, told the BBC she was "concerned" about its appearance.

She said: "We know that these synthetic opioids are being found in a range of substances and they bring with them increased risks of overdose, hospitalisation and death.

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