VIENNA, Austria – June 2017: The opioid market is becoming more diversified. This market comprises a combination of internationally controlled substances, particularly heroin, and prescription medicines that are either diverted from the legal market or produced as counterfeit medicines on a large scale. Some of these substances have remarkable pain-relieving properties and are widely used in human therapy; yet some are also liable to abuse and may produce dependence. The pills and powders containing synthetic opioids sold on the illicit market pose a threat to public health due to the variable quantity and potency of their active components, which in extreme cases, such as carfentanil, may be 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Such products can prove particularly dangerous when sold as street heroin or as counterfeit prescription drugs without the user’s knowledge. The emergence of highly toxic substances, as has been the case in the opioid market (e.g. the “fentanyl overdose crisis”), shows the need for increased regulation and monitoring.
Figure 1. Annual number of synthetic opioids reported to UNODC, 2012-2016
Source: UNODC early warning advisory on new psychoactive substances. Includes only synthetic opioids reported as NPS (i.e., with no current approved medical use). Data for 2016 are preliminary.
For more information, please see:
UNODC “World Drug Report 2017”
UNODC report on “Fentanyl and its analogues - 50 years on”