Jan 26, 2024 - News

Harm reduction center warns about deadly new opioids

Illustration of skull-shaped pills coming out of a prescription bottle.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Nitazenes, powerful synthetic drugs first detected in two fatal overdoses in Boulder last year, are now likely infiltrating Denver's drug supply.

Why it matters: Their presence could lead to more drug-related deaths, which are reaching an all-time high in Denver.

Driving the news: Harm Reduction Action Center executive director Lisa Raville warned about nitazenes — which are far more potent than fentanyl — during a presentation to Denver City Council members this week.

  • While their prevalence in the local drug supply is unclear, Raville is calling for regulations to ensure people using the opioids know what they're taking.
  • Naloxone, the opioid reversal medication available under the brand name Narcan, is effective against nitazenes, but it may require multiple doses.

What they're saying: "It hasn't been seen around except for maybe one other location so far in the Midwest, so it's not really on the common or designer toxicology screens," Commander Nick Goldberger, of the Boulder County Drug Task Force, told FOX31 in December.

Of note: Nitazenes were developed as pain relievers during the 1950s, though a 2023 National Institutes of Health report says the drugs were never approved to hit the market.

Threat level: The state's health department has recorded at least 13 deaths involving nitazenes between August 2021 and October 2023.

Yes, but: That's a fraction of the more than 1,100 fatal overdoses involving opioids in Colorado during 2022 alone.


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