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June 2020 – UNODC-SMART: Emergence of the new synthetic opioid isotonitazene

UNODC – June 2020: Isotonitazene is a new synthetic opioid that has emerged in Europe and North America. It was first synthesised in the mid-1950s as an attempt to develop safer opioid analgesics with levels of analgesic potency higher than that of morphine. Findings from animal and in vitro studies indicate that isotonitazene acts as a opioid analgesic in humans. Isotonitazene belongs to a chemical class of nitrobenzimidazoles opioids that is structurally different from fentanyl analogues and is the first one of this group to be identified on the illicit drug market in recent years. While isotonitazene is not under international control, other drugs belonging to the same class are included in the Schedule I of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol.

Isotonitazene has been identified in Europe since April 2019. As of 28 March 2020, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has received reports of identification of isotonitazene in seized drug samples and toxicology cases from six of its Member States including Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and recently released a technical report on isotonitazene.

At the global level, reports of isotonitazene identified in seized drug samples and toxicology cases in Canada and the United States have been submitted to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) since 2019. The substance was identified in 8 deaths in United States between June 2019 and December 2019. In February 2020, authorities in Canada seized 1,900 falsified “hydromorphone” tablets that contained isotonitazene.

Figure 1: Chemical Structure of isotonitazene

Source: UNODC Early Warning Advisory on New Psychoactive Substances.

For more information, please see:

EMCDDA, EMCDDA technical report on the new psychoactive substance N,N-diethyl-2-[[4-(1-methylethoxy)phenyl]methyl]-5-nitro-1Hbenzimidazole-1-ethanamine (isotonitazene) (June 2020).

UNODC, Current NPS Threats Volume II (January 2020).

UNODC, Global SMART Update Volume 21: Understanding the global opioid crisis (March 2019).

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