Opioids continue to present a significant public health threat, one that will likely be amplified by the recent rise of a powerful designer drug known as isotonitazene.
Isotonitazene, or “iso” for short, is a synthetic opioid derived from the potent opioid etonitazene, an analgesic drug developed in 1957. Some health experts warn that the drug is at least 100 times stronger than morphine and may even be more powerful than fentanyl.
According to HealthDay, fatal overdoses from iso claimed 40 to 50 American lives per month on average this year, up from approximately six deaths per month last year.
While these deaths have been limited to certain states – namely Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois – some fear that the use and abuse of the drug could spread on a national level, mirroring increases in fentanyl and methamphetamine usage in recent years.
Iso often takes the form of a white or yellow powder and has been found laced into other drugs, including cocaine.
Users may not be aware of the presence of this potent substance in the drugs they have purchased, meaning they likely do not have a tolerance to iso, and their probability of experiencing a lethal overdose is therefore higher.
In addition to the overdose risk, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has categorized iso as having a high potential for addiction.
From 2018 to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids accounted for almost half of these deaths.
With these figures in mind, the increasing popularity of iso is a daunting prospect.
Even more concerning is the likelihood that drug testing strips will not be able to detect the presence of iso in the way they would be able to identify fentanyl and other drugs that have been on the market longer.
We’ve learned from the past that the prevalence of different drugs ebbs and flows. While prescription painkillers and fentanyl are top of mind at the moment, we can’t focus all of our energy on fighting these substances alone because a multitude of other drugs carry the potential for addiction and overdose as well.
If we can get ahead of the iso problem through increased awareness and preventative measures, we can better protect our communities and avoid repeating history.
Those who suspect that they or a loved one may be struggling with opioid addiction should contact a local treatment center.
Seon Kim is Clinical Director at Mountainside, an addiction treatment facility in Connecticut.