The latest data from the Rapid Action Drug Alerts and Response (RADAR) early warning system, led by Public Health Scotland (PHS), shows that nitazenes have been detected in 25 deaths in Scotland since 2022 (up until 30 September 2023), based on post-mortem toxicology testing. There can be little doubt nitazenes are circulating in Scotland and pose a serious harm to health.

The release of this data follows a PHS alert on nitazene-type opioids in Scotland first published in January 2023 to announce increased detections of nitazenes in Scotland. The alert has been updated to ensure healthcare staff and the public are kept aware of increasing harms related to these new potent drugs and actions that services and staff can take.

Dr Tara Shivaji, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at Public Health Scotland, said:

"Nitazenes are highly potent opioid drugs, which can be many times stronger than more common opioids like heroin. This means a significantly smaller amount is required to get an effect and this poses an increased risk of overdose and death.

"Because nitazenes have been found in various street drugs like benzodiazepines and fake pharmaceuticals, people may not be aware they are taking nitazenes or the increased risk. In addition, the amount of drugs in tablets, powders and blotters can vary widely, even within the same batch. Only testing can determine the strength of an illicit drug and what drugs are present.

"People who use drugs should be more vigilant due to nitazenes’ increased potency and can reduce the risks of harm by: dosing low; going slow; avoiding mixing drugs; and ensuring naloxone is to hand and there are people around you who can respond in an emergency."

The RADAR system works in collaboration with a range of partners, including people with lived experience of substance use, and allows national data to be combined with information from healthcare, prison, police and toxicology services, alongside reports from organisations that support people who use drugs and the public. For more information on RADAR, view our webpage, latest quarterly report, digital dashboard and blog.

PHS has also been supporting the work of the Scottish Drugs Forum who have created resources for people at risk of overdose.

For more information or harm reduction advice on drugs and where to seek help, please visit NHS inform.





Last updated: 20 December 2023