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New Synthetic Opioid Linked to Overdose Deaths

Nickolaus Hayes By Nickolaus Hayes | Last Updated: 6 June 2024

Within the span of one year, isotonitazene, which is a novel psychoactive substance, was implicated in a fatal overdose spike in the Midwestern United States. Isotonitazene is a potent synthetic opioid that structurally resembles etonitazene is also a synthetic opioid.

The drug was first synthesized and reported in medical literature in the 1950s. The drug has a potency similar to or greater than fentanyl.

The drug surfaced in early 2019 in America, Canada, and parts of Europe, supposedly from Chinese vendors. In January 2020, a coroner in the central Illinois city of Peoria released a toxicology report for a person who died a month prior, and test results came back positive for isotonitazene.

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Since the time of this report, there have been more fatal overdose deaths, and the city of Peoria saw a 40% increase in overdose deaths within the first quarter of 2020. There is little information about the toxicity of the drug.

However, healthcare professionals believe the synthetic opioid retains the potential to cause widespread harm and is of public health concern. Toxicology screenings across the United States have identified samples of the drug. All the information has been coming entirely from toxicology reports and not drug seizures. Systematic supply reviews have not flagged the drug by law enforcement—only by a few media reports from Canada.

Although many of the reports seem to signal that the limited presence of the drug in the United States is unlikely to surge anytime soon—the drug is not as widely made in Chinese labs as fentanyl, which means it is not smuggled into the United States as often. However, people are unsettled by it, especially those working within the treatment industry. According to the CDC, in 2018, there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths in the United States. When compared to 2017, the age-adjusted rate of overdose deaths decreased by 4.6%. Synthetic opioids were the main driver for drug overdose deaths. Opioids were involved in 46,802 overdose deaths, which was 69.5% of all deaths.




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Nickolaus Hayes has been working with Drug Rehab Services for the past ten years. Over the past 15 years, he has remained connected to helping people who have been struggling with addiction. He first started working as an intake counselor at a drug rehabilitation center in 2005. During the five years as an intake counselor, he was able to help hundreds of people find treatment. Nickolaus was also fortunate to be able to work with professional interventionists, traveling across the country performing interventions. Over the many years being involved with Drug Rehab Services, he has been able to contribute through the written word. Nickolaus has seen first-hand what drugs and alcohol can do to a family and an addict. He remains dedicated to helping people stay informed about drugs and alcohol. Through the endless amount of information available on the internet, it is important to have current up-to-date facts about drug and alcohol abuse. His main focus is keeping the truth about drugs out there for everyone to access and read for themselves.