Nitazenes ‘increasingly posing major health risks’, warns UNODC

The emergence of nitazenes is ‘increasingly posing major health risks in some countries’, according to UNODC’s World drug report 2024.

nitazenes ‘increasingly posing major health risks in some countries’ - UNODC
More new nitazenes than fentanyl analogues are now being reported in Europe

‘The number of new unique nitazenes at the global level is now approaching the number of fentanyl analogues not under international control,’ the document states, with more new nitazenes than fentanyl analogues now being reported in Europe.

‘Significant numbers’ of overdoses linked to etonitazepyne have been reported in the US and, to a lesser extent, Canada, it says, with the substance also identified in Belgium, Slovenia and the UK. Etonitazepyne and protonitazepyne were being sold as heroin in Ireland last year, leading to ‘a wave of overdoses’, with the also UK seeing high-potency nitazenes enter the market at the same time – sold as, or mixed with, opioids, benzodiazepines or synthetic cannabinoids. As also highlighted in the EMCDDA’s recent European drug report, data from the Baltic countries illustrates how the introduction of nitazenes can ‘rapidly affect trends in drug-related deaths’, UNODC states, ‘with substances such as isotonitazene, protonitazene and metonitazene increasingly identified in drug deaths in Estonia and Latvia’.

nitazenes UNODC
Global cocaine production reached a new record high in 2022

The Taliban’s opium ban has led to a 95 per cent fall in production in Afghanistan since 2022 – combined with a 36 per cent increase in Myanmar, this means that global opium production is down by 74 per cent overall. While opium and heroin prices have ‘skyrocketed’ in Afghanistan, no real shortages in the main destination markets were reported until early this year, the report says, as drug traffickers were likely stockpiling their product in anticipation of higher prices. ‘This situation may change if future harvests continue to be contained,’ it states. ‘The dramatic contraction of the Afghan opiate market made Afghan farmers poorer, and a few traffickers richer.’ Meanwhile, global cocaine production reached a new record high of 2,757 tons in 2022, with the ‘prolonged surge’ in supply coinciding with increasing levels of violence in countries along the supply chain and an increase in health harms in destination countries, including in Europe.

nitazenes UNODC report
Just one in 18 women with a drug use disorder is in treatment compared to one in seven men

The number of people who use drugs worldwide has increased by 20 per cent over the last decade, the report says, and by 2022 was standing at 292m. Cannabis remains the most-used drug, with 228m users, followed by opioids (60m), amphetamines (30m), cocaine (23m), and ecstasy (20m). Although an estimated 64m people have a drug use disorder, only one in 11 is in treatment. The situation is far worse for women, the agency points out, with just one in 18 women with a drug use disorder in treatment compared to one in seven men.

‘Drug production, trafficking, and use continue to exacerbate instability and inequality, while causing untold harm to people’s health, safety and wellbeing,” said UNODC executive director Ghada Waly. ‘We need to provide evidence-based treatment and support to all people affected by drug use, while targeting the illicit drug market and investing much more in prevention.’

Document available here

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