Monday, June 24, 2024

Europe is running out of heroin. The alternatives are much worse

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“Nitazenes are sometimes sold as ‘synthetic heroin’ and have been detected in fake medicines on the drug market,” said the report, which was released on Tuesday. Their sudden arrival on city streets “can result in multiple poisonings occurring over a short period, with the potential to overwhelm local services.”

While an opioid crisis on the scale seen in the United States is still far away for Europe, six of the seven new synthetic opioids reported for the first time to the EU’s early warning system in 2023 were nitazenes, the highest number in a single year, with 16 found in Europe since 2019.

It’s a “rapidly evolving drug market, where established illicit drugs are widely accessible and potent new synthetic substances continue to emerge,” EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel said in a written statement.

Produced in China, nitazenes have been on health and law enforcement agencies’ radar for several years, as officials nervously eye the ongoing crisis in North America. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, killed some 75,000 people in the U.S. last year, adding to the 1 million who have died since an epidemic of prescription painkiller use exploded in the country around 2000.

In the U.S., painkillers made way for heroin, and heroin for synthetic opioids, sparking fears of a similar process in Europe. That is particularly worrying given the looming possibility of a heroin drought. In April 2022, the recently victorious Taliban banned all opium cultivation and heroin processing in Afghanistan, knocking out 95 percent of Afghan production, according to the U.N.

Given the country accounts for nine-tenths of world’s supply, that means Europe’s heroin users are consuming their way through limited stockpiles. For now, provisions have held up, but “it would be prudent to prepare for a possible heroin shortage in late 2024 or 2025,” predicted the EMCDDA.

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