The Metropolitan Police has made what it says is the largest ever seizure of synthetic opioids in the UK.
Around 150,000 nitazene tablets were recovered by officers working with UK Border Agency staff at addresses in the London boroughs of Waltham Forest and Enfield.
The tablets were recovered in a ‘sophisticated factory set up’, say the police, alongside other class A and B drugs, a pill pressing machine, more than £60,000 in cash and a firearm.
The drugs were seized on 24 October, with 11 people arrested as of 21 November. ‘It is suspected the drugs were sold via the dark web, using encrypted chat applications and social media’, the police state. Around £8,000 in cryptocurrency stored on hard drives was also seized.
Nitazenes are extremely potent synthetic opioids that are increasingly being found in the UK drug supply, including in heroin batches and pills sold as oxycodone or benzodiazepines. They are associated with high levels of sedation and respiratory depression, with overdoses often requiring multiple doses of naloxone.
Many in the treatment sector are concerned that the UK drug market may be flooded with synthetic opioids like nitazenes and fentanyl as a result of the Taliban’s opium ban in Afghanistan. Opium poppy cultivation in the country has fallen by 95 per cent since last year, according to the latest UNODC analysis (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/afghan-opium-cultivation-drops-by-95-per-cent/).
Nitazenes were linked to a number of fatal overdoses in the Birmingham area earlier this year. Their presence in fake Xanax or OxyContin pills purchased from the dark web also means that they’re more likely to be used by people with very low levels of opioid tolerance, and without access to naloxone (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/stayin-alive/).
‘Synthetic opioids have been detected in batches of heroin found in London and across the UK,’ said Detective Superintendent Helen Rance. ‘They substantially raise the risk of incredibly serious harm to the user and are believed to be linked to a number of deaths. We are working closely with partners to monitor and proactively tackle this issue, provide advice and remove the availability of these dangerous drugs from our streets.’
(Features, November 2023) Stayin’ Alive, information and downloadable resources on nitaznes.
(Features, June 2017): Meet the Fentanyls, a guide to the fentanyl family by Kevin Flemen.
(News, August 2023): Better utilisation of data and data sharing, including early warning systems, is needed to address the escalating drug crisis in the UK
(Partner Updates, September 2023): Release, alongside EuroNPUD and other drug treatment service colleagues in the UK, have produced harm reduction advice on nitazenes.
(News, January 2023): Fentanyl behind 80% increase in New York’s overdose deaths