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UK facing 'Summer of Death' as new drug deadlier than fentanyl and heroin spreads rapidly

A deadly new drug, nitazenes, up to 500 times more potent than heroin, is causing a surge in overdose deaths in the UK, leading to fears of a 'summer of deaths' as law enforcement struggles to contain its spread amidst a global heroin shortage.

UK facing 'Summer of Death' as new drug deadlier than fentanyl and heroin spreads rapidly avv
First Published Mar 21, 2024, 3:33 PM IST

A devastating drug, up to 500 times more threatening than heroin, is rapidly spreading across the UK, sparking fears of a 'summer of deaths' on British streets. Known as nitazenes, the synthetic drugs have been linked to over 100 deaths in the past year alone, as they are being mixed into supplies of hard drugs like heroin and counterfeit medications sold online.

The emergence of nitazenes comes at a critical juncture when the global supply of heroin has dramatically decreased due to crackdowns on opium poppy fields in Afghanistan. Desperate dealers are now turning to nitazenes to fill the gap, leading to a surge in their availability and use.

The influence of nitazenes is a major concern, with even tiny doses proving lethal. Compared to heroin, this synthetic drug is 50 to 500 times stronger, making them extremely dangerous for unsuspecting users. Many individuals purchasing what they believe to be common medications like codeine or diazepam are unknowingly consuming nitazenes, putting themselves at grave risk.

To combat this growing threat, the UK government has taken action by classifying 15 synthetic opioids, including 14 nitazenes, as Class A drugs. However, experts warn that more needs to be done, as testing labs struggle to detect nitazenes effectively due to their potency and the minute quantities required for a fatal overdose.

Nitazenes are primarily being produced in illicit labs in China before being smuggled into the UK through postal services. Law enforcement agencies are working to intercept these shipments and dismantle the networks responsible for distributing nitazenes. Despite these efforts, the death toll linked to nitazenes continues to rise, with 101 deaths reported in the UK since last summer, 76 of which occurred in England alone.

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