AFP and ABF warn dealers are trying to import metonitazene, a drug worse than fentanyl, into Australia

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Authorities have raised concerns the deadly opioid Nitazene could be hitting Australian streets.
Authorities have raised concerns the deadly opioid Nitazene could be hitting Australian streets. Credit: Australian Federal Police./Supplied

Authorities have warned dealers are attempting to bring a new drug more dangerous than the opioid fentanyl into Australia after foiling a string of attempted postal importations.

Harm reduction experts told The Nightly that nitazenes, potent synthetic opioids, carried a high risk of overdose and had been detected in drugs such as heroin, cocaine and MDMA in Australia.

The Australian Federal Police and the Australian Border Force said on Monday they had seized 742 tablets of metonitazene from 22 packages sent to Australia via mail cargo from the United Kingdom in October 2023.

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AFP Commander Paula Hudson said there was no such thing as a safe dose of nitazene, adding that the risk of overdose was greater than fentanyl, which can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

“Nitazenes were never approved for any therapeutic purpose due to their adverse effects and high risk of overdose due to potencies similar to or greater than fentanyl,” she said.

“If you choose to take this drug, the risk you are taking is your own life.

“Nitazene can be presented in a variety of forms including powders, tablets, nasal sprays, and even vape liquids. They are often marketed and sold as cocaine, heroin, MDMA and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.”

State and territory authorities have detected nitazenes in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

Last month NSW Health issued a public warning that drugs sold as heroin were found to contain nitazenes after a sharp increase in overdoses in Penrith in Sydney’s northwest.

The state government health body said the contaminated drugs looked like yellow powder and was hundreds of times more potent than heroin.

CanTest, a drug checking service offered by the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy and Directions Health Services, issued a red alert after detecting metonitazene in a pill purporting to be the painkiller oxycodone at the end of 2022.

CAHMA executive director Chris Gough said nitazenes had been detected in heroin as well as the party drugs cocaine and MDMA, which he said carried a higher risk of overdose.

“It’s such a strong opioid that someone using another drug like cocaine or MDMA won’t have a tolerance to opioids at all,” he said.

“There’s an increased risk of overdose and they probably won’t have Naloxone on them.”

Nitazene can last in the body longer than Naloxone, which is used to treat opioid overdoses, requiring multiple doses in the case of overdose.

Previously police have charged a Northern Territory man for allegedly importing 5 grams of metonitazene via post from the UK. In another bust, ABF officers found 5 grams of the synthetic opioid in a vacuum-sealed package.

A man in western Sydney was charged in August in 2023 after attempting to import a variety of illicit drugs, including 97 tablets of an analogue of nitazene, purchased on the dark web and concealed in cookware, toy cars and a blackjack set.

ABF acting commander Asha Patwardhan said nitazenes had the potential to cause significant community harm in Australia.

“The ABF will stop at nothing to prevent such illegal imports from making it to Australia,” she said.

“We will continue to target criminals who peddle in this illicit activity as we do all we can through our pre, post and at border intervention activities to protect the Australian community.”

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