Nitazenes detected in 25 Scottish drug deaths

Highly potent nitazenes have now been detected in 25 Scottish drug-related deaths since last year, according to data from Public Health Scotland’s (PHS) latest Rapid Action Drug Alerts and Response (RADAR) early warning system. 

scottish ambulance
PHS first warned about the presence of nitazenes in Scotland’s drug supply at the start of the year

The figures, which are based on post-mortem toxicology testing through to the end of September, mean there ‘can be little doubt’ that nitazenes are now circulating in Scotland’s drug supply, says PHS, posing a ‘serious harm to health’. 

The RADAR system allows national data to be combined with information from healthcare, criminal justice and toxicology services. PHS first warned about the presence of nitazenes in Scotland’s drug supply at the start of the year, and recently collaborated with SDF on a nitazene resource pack for people at risk of overdose, as well as their families, friends and treatment services (  

‘Because nitazenes have been found in various street drugs like benzodiazepines and fake pharmaceuticals, people may not be aware they are taking nitazenes or the increased risk, said consultant in public health medicine at PHS, Dr Tara Shivaji. The amount present could vary widely, even within the same batch, he pointed out, meaning that people needed to be more vigilant. They could reduce risks by ‘dosing low, going slow, avoiding mixing drugs and ensuring naloxone is to hand’, he added, as well as making sure there are people around who could respond in an emergency. 

Meanwhile, the latest drug and alcohol treatment waiting time figures from PHS show that almost 11,500 referrals were made during the third quarter of 2023, more than half of which were for alcohol, 36 per cent for drugs and 12 per cent for both. While overall more than 90 per cent of people who started treatment had to wait three weeks or less, five NHS boards failed to meet the government’s 90 per cent standard – Lanarkshire, Forth Valley, Lothian, Fife and Western Isles. 

National drug and alcohol treatment waiting times, 1 July 2023 to 30 September 2023

Related articles

(Features, November 2023) Stayin’ Alive, A new family of synthetic opioids, known as nitazenes, have adulterated a number of illicit drugs in the UK. Information and downloadable resources.

(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

Search the DDN archive for more on nitazenes, fentanyl and synthetic opioids.

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