Deadly opioid more potent than fentanyl possibly circulating in New Zealand

Alarm bells are ringing after a deadly opioid more potent than fentanyl was found in New Zealand.

The New Zealand drug information alert service, High Alert, has issued a warning for drug users to be extremely cautious after the "highly potent synthetic opioid" was misrepresented as butonitazene.

The substance was detected in an orange powder in Wellington and High Alert said it is possibly in circulation nationwide.

The powder taken for testing which determined the sample contained either N-pyrrolidino-protonitazene or N-pyrrolidino-isotonitazene.

"Although these all come from the nitazene class of drugs and produce similar effects, N-pyrrolidino-protonitazene and N-pyrrolidino-isotonitazene are significantly more potent than butonitazene," High Alert said.

"People consuming this substance believing it to be butonitazene are at significant risk of harm, including death."

N-pyrrolidino-protonitazene has been implicated in many deaths internationally, with pharmacological data suggesting it exhibits a potency 25 times greater than fentanyl.

High Alert said there is no way to accurately dose these substances, and injecting has increased risk.

Nitazenes are becoming more prevalent in New Zealand.

High Alert said it first became aware of the drug circulating in New Zealand in March 2022, when nitazenes were detected in fake blue 'M30' oxycodone tablets being sold in the Wellington region.

Since then, the organisation has issued four alerts, including this most recent one, that the group of opioids had made its way into New Zealand's drug market.

The physical effects of nitazenes are similar to other synthetic opioids. This can include:

  • Feeling euphoric or in a 'dreamlike' state
  • Sedation ('the nod' - being drowsy and then jerking awake)
  • Temporary relief of pain, stress, or low mood
  • Itchiness (in one area or across whole body)
  • Severe nausea and/or vomiting
  • Severe sweating or fevers
  • Slowed and/or difficulty breathing
  • Blue lips or fingertips
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Pinpoint (tiny) pupils
  • Becoming unresponsive and/or losing consciousness.

It important to act quickly if you think someone is overdosing as it improves their odds of survival. Call 111 and ask for an ambulance immediately. Don't leave the person alone.

High Alert said if you have come across nitazenes, or experienced unexpected effects from any substance, please tell them about your experience through their 'Report unusual effects' page. It's completely confidential and will help keep others safe.

If you have any concerns about your own drinking or drug taking, get in touch with the Alcohol Drug Helpline Call 0800 787 797, or text 8681, to speak with a trained counsellor - they'll be able to provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They're available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat with the team through the website.