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Emerging Threats in the Opioid Crisis: The Rise of Nitazenes

  • RJ 

The opioid epidemic continues to evolve, presenting new challenges in public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a staggering number of deaths related to fentanyl overdoses in a recent 12-month period. As the battle against fentanyl continues, a new class of synthetic opioids, known as nitazenes, is emerging as a potential threat, possibly eclipsing the current fentanyl crisis in severity.

Nitazenes: A New Class of Synthetic Opioids

Originally developed in the late 1950s by CIBA (now part of Novartis) as potential pain treatments, nitazenes, also referred to as benzimidazole-based opioids, were never approved due to their high potency and associated risks. Recently, these substances have been detected in various parts of the world, including Europe, Canada, and the United States, often involved in overdose cases.

The Growing Concern

In 2022, reports indicated a significant increase in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids classified as nitazenes. The United Kingdom has also seen a substantial influx of these drugs, with law enforcement seizing large quantities. Alarmingly, nitazenes are being found not only in opioids but also in black-market benzodiazepines, posing a hidden danger to users unaware of the contamination.

Potency and Risks

One of the most concerning aspects of nitazenes is their extreme potency. Some variants, like etonitazene, may be up to 1,000 times more potent than morphine, far surpassing fentanyl’s potency. This level of potency significantly increases the risk of overdose and makes these drugs a major public health concern.


The emergence of nitazenes in the street drug supply is a worrying development in the ongoing opioid crisis. The extreme potency of these substances demands urgent attention and action from public health authorities, policymakers, and the community to prevent a surge in overdose incidents and safeguard public health.