The DEA Washington Division is warning area residents of a new drug, emerging in the D.C. metropolitan area that is as dangerous and deadly as fentanyl.
This week, the DEA Washington Division brought local news outlets into their regional laboratory to see and discuss a dangerous class of drugs they are seeing emerge in the region -- nitazenes. A drug that was never approved for medical use, nitazines are being sourced from China and being mixed into other drugs.
Isotonitazene (aka nitazene or "ISO”) is a particular synthetic opioid the DEA is seeing move into the area. First identified around 2019 in the Midwest, this dangerous drug has moved into the Southern states and, more recently, along the Eastern seaboard. Much more potent than heroin and morphine (similar to fentanyl), ISO is being mixed into and marketed as other drugs to make drugs more potent and cheaper to produce. The major concern: This drug can and has caused deadly overdoses in unsuspecting victims.
In powder form, ISO can appear yellow, brown, or off-white in color. DEA regional forensic laboratories have seen this drug mixed into heroin and/or fentanyl (and marketed as common street drugs) with deadly consequences. However, in other parts of the country, ISO has already been seen pressed into counterfeit pills and falsely marketed as pharmaceutical medication (like Dilaudid "M-8" tablets and oxycodone "M30" tablets).
ISO’s high potency comes with an increased risk of overdose – a big issue the DEA Washington Division is currently working to tackle. According to provisional CDC data, in 2021, U.S. drug overdose deaths hit their highest level on record -- nearly 108,000 people. Even more concerning: over 75% of those deaths involved a synthetic opioid.
Tragically, many of these overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting these dangerous and extremely potent drugs. The DEA says these synthetic opioids currently can only be properly identified after a lab test, so people don't realize they're buying them until it's too late.
“We want to get this info out and warn people,” says Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Washington Division. “If we can educate and inform our communities about the dangers of taking counterfeit prescription pills or other drugs, we stem the proliferation of these deadly opioids, stop all of these senseless deaths, and help keep our neighbors and loved ones safe. “
Currently, nitazene reports are still relatively low, especially compared to fentanyl. However, officials say this emerging drug is something to keep an eye on.
"People have to keep in mind, with all the synthetic drugs out there, and the way they’re being mixed together, you never know what you’re actually buying," says DEA Intelligence Analyst Maura Gaffney. Only take medications prescribed by your doctor and dispensed by your licensed pharmacist because pills or drugs obtained elsewhere are unsafe and are often deadly.