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Nitazene, 43 Times More Potent Than Fentanyl, Poses Threat In U.S.

After years spent addicted to heroin on the streets of North Carolina, Samantha Ross had turned her life around. She marked four years in recovery, got married and traveled last year to Miami Beach to celebrate her 34th birthday. By then, the cravings had returned. Ross told her husband she’d gone out and used methamphetamine and crack cocaine, said a Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s report. That morning, Ross’s husband found her dead of an overdose, slumped in a bed at their Airbnb, two pipes and a baggie with powder residue at her side. Toxicology tests revealed she’d consumed cocaine and fentanyl — plus two other drugs belonging to a class of opioids known as nitazenes. One of those drugs is estimated to be 43 times more potent than fentanyl, reports the Washington Post. Ross’s mother, Cathy Sheely, had never heard of nitazenes. She doubts her daughter knew she was ingesting them. “We’ve all heard of fentanyl but didn’t know there were these other drugs out there killing people,” Sheely said.

The novel opioids can be many times more powerful than fentanyl and can complicate overdose revivals and addiction treatment. Even as illicit fentanyl manufactured in Mexico remains by far the chief catalyst for overdose deaths in the U.S., the increasing presence of nitazenes adds another layer of health concerns as users often have no inkling they are consuming those opioids. A recently unsealed federal indictment in South Florida opens a rare window into the source of nitazenes: manufacturers in China that officials say sell the drugs online and ship them to U.S. dealers. Prosecutors allege that a Deerfield Beach, Fla., man used WhatsApp and bitcoin to purchase nitazenes to mix with fentanyl or heroin, to stretch out his supplies of opioids and make an “ultra powerful substance.” “The nitazenes can make [a drug mix] stronger than fentanyl,” said Anthony Salisbury, the agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations office in South Florida. “As if we needed something stronger than fentanyl.” The South Florida case included indictments against a Chinese chemical sales company and an employee of that company. One indictment says the Chinese company is using websites, social media accounts and messaging apps to sell chemicals such as protonitazene and metonitazene to customers in the U.S., Europe, Asia and South America.


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