What are nitazenes? Growing concerns over new opioids stronger than fentanyl

If you haven't heard of nitazenes, you're not alone. Officials are issuing warnings about the new and deadly threat in the nation's ongoing opioid epidemic.

What are nitazenes?

Nitazenes are a class of synthetic opioids that have been around since the 1950s, but now, authorities say they are being mixed with other illegal narcotics, like heroin and methamphetamine.

"Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin, 100 times more powerful than morphine and nitazenes is more powerful than fentanyl," said Frank Tarentino, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency's North Division. "Anywhere up to 5 to 10 times more powerful." 

According to Tarentino, the DEA's New York Division has seen less than five investigations involving nitazenes and overdoses, and poisonings. But while the drug is not as widespread as fentanyl, it is growing on their radar, as the NYPD has seized more of the drug in recent months.

Forbes reported earlier this year the prevalence of nitazenes is picking up in other states like Ohio, which saw a nearly 20% jump in 2022, while Tennessee reported 42 deadly overdoses the same year, four times more than the previous year. 

"Because the fatality risk is so high with nitazenes, similarly to fentanyl, could someone develop an opioid use disorder with these drugs? Absolutely," said Dr. Alexandria Stratyner, an addiction and recovery psychologist.

However, according to Dr. Stratyner, there is a serious risk that deadly overdoses of the drug could come well-before the development of an addiction to it, stressing that as the drug grows in prevalence, the effective use of Narcan should as well.


New York DEA seized 10% of US deadly fentanyl doses in 2023: Report

Nearly 6,000 people in New York died of drug poisonings in 2023, with half of those in New York City.

"Don’t think ‘well I’m not sure it’s going to work because there’s this new group of drugs, it might not work,’ carry it anyway. You might save a life," Dr. Stratyner shared.

Nearly all reports show the drug's manufacturing can be tracked back to China and in some cases, Mexico. The DEA's office says they hope to get ahead of the drug to present any mass overdose events related to it.

Drug overdoses actually declined in 2023, the first decline in such deaths since 2018, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control.