Canada warns of dangerous new ingredient in fake opioids

An ingredient more powerful than fentanyl has been discovered in counterfeit painkillers seized in Canada and the US, raising fears of a spike in overdose-related deaths.

Police in Halifax, Nova Scotia found fake opioid pills laced with isotonitazene, a highly-potent novel opioid that has already been linked to overdose deaths in the US and Canada in recent months.

Isotonitazene is thought to be the first member of the benzimidazole class of compounds to be made available – undiluted and in bulk – via illicit online markets, according to a recent research article in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis.

The drug is much stronger than morphine or heroin, in fact it is too potent to be reversed using standard doses of Emergent Biosciences’ opioid reversal agent Narcan (naloxone), a go-to treatment for people in overdose.

Halifax Police found the stash of 1,900 pills, which were in a white triangle shape with “M” scored on one side and “8” scored on the other to mimic Dilaudid, a branded version of the semi-synthetic opioid hydromorphone originally launched in the 1990s and latterly sold by Purdue Pharma.

The haul from the February 12 raid were sent to Health Canada for analysis, which confirmed the presence of isotonitazene.

“Given the potency of the drug, a person may need several doses of naloxone to counter an overdose caused by isotonitazene,” said Halifax Police in a statement. They are urging anyone who consumes the drug to seek immediate medical assistance.

The Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE) said in an alert last November that isotonitazene had been identified in eight blood specimens associated with postmortem death investigations in the US since August 2019.

“The toxicity of isotonitazene has not been extensively studied but recent association with drug user death leads professionals to believe this new synthetic opioid retains the potential to cause widespread harm and is of public health concern,” it warned

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