An estimated 3 million people in the U.S. have or are recovering from opioid addiction. In recent years, fentanyl has emerged as a public health hazard and a driver of the opioid epidemic. This synthetic opioid is responsible for causing thousands of deaths.  However, fentanyl is no longer the only synthetic opioid to worry about.

A new drug called protonitazene has recently been found in the United States and Canada. NPS Discovery first reported the drug in May 2021 after it was initially detected in a toxicology case. Since then, at least six additional cases discovered by NPS and others have been reported in Europe.

In South Carolina, there were three deaths from protonitazene that occurred just days apart. The deaths were initially thought to be caused by fentanyl. However, after conducting a thorough investigation, they were found to have been caused by protonitazene. Public health officials sounded the alarm about this dangerous new drug making the rounds on city streets.

What is Protonitazene?

The drug protonitazene is a new synthetic opioid structured similarly to etonitazene, a controlled synthetic opioid. Forensic casework encounters synthetic opioids with a different structure than protonitazene, namely heroin and fentanyl.

Protonitazene can come in the form of powder or tablets. It has also been found in syringes, indicating that the drug is available in all the standard forms of opioids.

Under closer examination, researchers believe that protonitazene is three times more potent than fentanyl. Fentanyl is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, including over 92,000 deaths in 2020 alone.

Protonitazene is one of several drugs categorized as “nitazene” drugs. These drugs pose a public health threat for several reasons. One is that they may be resistant to overdose antidotes such as Narcan.

In addition, they are not controlled and have no approved medical use. Thus, there is no way of knowing how much protonitazene is being trafficked and used in the U.S. and Canada.

Side Effects of Protonitazene

The most concerning side effect of protonitazene is death. Because it is more potent than fentanyl, there is concern that protonitazene could be responsible for premature deaths among addicts.

Protonitazene’s toxicity has not yet been tested or proven. Research is just now being performed on this drug, and therefore there are still many unknowns about this new opioid. However, taking protonitazene may likely cause heroin overdose symptoms.

Symptoms of overdose caused by protonitazene can include:

  • Shallow or difficult breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Small pupils
  • Discolored tongue
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Bluish lips and nails
  • Constipation
  • Stomach spasms
  • Coma
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion/delusion

The drug can cause different side effects in other people, leading to unintentional overdoses. For some people, it can cause rapid sedation and heart failure, leading to sudden death.

Safety Issues Posed by Protonitazene

Buying opioids off the street gives an added risk of potentially using protonitazene. Unknowingly taking this drug comes with the risk of suffering from overdose symptoms or death. 

Another safety issue posed by protonitazene may become more widely distributed to unsuspecting young people. Teen overdose deaths reached their highest levels in 2021. There is concern that the rate of teen deaths due to drug overdose will continue to climb.

A primary culprit of teen overdose deaths is fentanyl. Research shows that drug use among teens has not significantly increased over the last decade. Instead, the cause of the spike in teen deaths is that more drugs are being laced with fentanyl. In 2021, 77 percent of teen overdose deaths were caused by fentanyl-laced drugs.

Unlike adults, who are more likely to seek out illicit opioids, teens are more likely to look for prescription medications. They are often unable to distinguish between legitimate and synthetic versions of these drugs. And unfortunately, the majority of the synthetic versions of these drugs are laced with deadly compounds, such as fentanyl.

Thus, if protonitazene replaces fentanyl as the drug that laces opioids, there is a real cause for concern. Teen deaths from a synthetic opioid overdose will skyrocket in the coming years.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Adults and teens alike can suffer from opioid addiction. Often, people don’t initially seek out these opioid drugs. Instead, they have prescribed opioids for pain management following an accident, injury, or surgery. They then become addicted and feel like they cannot function without opioids in their system.

An estimated 80 percent of people who use heroin started by first misusing prescription opioids. Additionally,  8 – 12 percent of people who have been prescribed end up becoming addicted to opioids.

The long-term effects of opiate addiction are far-reaching. They can include death due to an overdose after taking an opioid laced with protonitazene. 

It is essential to seek treatment for opioid addiction as quickly as possible. Opioid rehabilitation programs are available to help patients safely detox from opioids and learn how to change their behaviors. They can again function and enjoy life without feeling the overwhelming desire to use opioids.

Get Help for Opioid Addiction in San Diego, CA

Protonitazene is a dangerous, new synthetic opioid that can be more powerful than fentanyl. Synthetic opioids can cause overdose symptoms and pose a greater risk than other opioids. With treatment, opioid addiction can be managed, and long-term recovery can be achieved. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with opioid addiction, Healthy Life Recovery offers opioid addiction rehab. Therapy, medication management, and holistic therapies are provided at our facility to encourage long-term recovery from addiction.

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