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Nitazenes: Highly Potent Opioids Surface in West African Drug Market for the First Time

Nitazenes: Highly Potent Opioids Surface in West African Drug Market for the First Time

Nitazenes can be 100 times more potent than heroin and 10 times the strength of fentanyl meaning that users get their high from small hits but with huge risks of overdosing. Now they’ve found their way into the West African drug market for the first time

Chinedu Asadu, Associated Press

1 July 2024 at 11:00:00

This report from Associated Press published on 12 June 2024.


ABUJA, Nigeria — Traces of highly potent opioids known as nitazenes have for the first time been found to be consumed by people who use drugs in Africa, according to a report released on 12 June 2024 by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a nonprofit organization.


Nitazenes, powerful synthetic opioids, have long been in use in Western countries as well as in Asia where they have been associated with overdose deaths. Some of them can be up to 100 times more potent than heroin and up to 10 times more potent than fentanyl, meaning that users can get an effect from a much smaller amount, putting them at increased risk of overdose and death.


The report focused on Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau and is based on chemical testing of kush, a derivative of cannabis mixed with synthetic drugs like fentanyl and tramadol and chemicals like formaldehyde. Researchers found that in Sierra Leone, 83% of the samples were found to contain nitazenes, while in Guinea-Bissau it was identified in 55%.


READ: Africa's cannabis consumption is growing faster than anywhere else, and so is the use of dangerous new drug 'cocktails'


“The GI-TOC ( Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime) believes that these results are the first indication that nitazenes have penetrated retail drug markets in Africa,” the report said.


Many young people in West and Central Africa have become addicted to drugs with between 5.2% and 13.5% using cannabis, the most widely used illicit substance on the continent, according to the World Health Organization.


In Sierra Leone where kush is one of the most widely consumed drugs, President Julius Maada Bio this year declared war on the substance, calling it an epidemic and a national threat.


READ: 90% of the world's tramadol seizures take place in Africa


Nitazenes have been detected repeatedly in substances sold to young people in the region such that users are most likely ingesting them “without knowing the risks they face,” the report said.


The authors said their findings suggest that nitazenes are being imported into Sierra Leone from elsewhere and that the substance being sold as kush in Guinea-Bissau was of similar chemical composition to that found in Freetown.


Officials in the two countries must deploy chemical testing equipment as a first step in tackling drug abuse, the report said. “Without this, it is impossible for the government of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and the wider subregion to accurately monitor the countries’ illicit drug markets and develop evidence-based responses,” it said.

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