French authorities have recently issued a ban on a new synthetic opioid that is 500 times more potent than morphine. The National Agency for Medicines (ANSM) in France issued a statement on July 8th alerting the public about the circulation of these new opioids in the country. These opioids, which can be in the form of powder, tablets, liquid sprays, or e-liquids, have raised concerns due to their potency and potential for misuse.

According to a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), these new opioids are up to 500 times more potent than morphine and 20 times more potent than Fentanyl. The report also highlights the dangers associated with these substances, including a high risk of potentially fatal overdose even at low doses. Additionally, there is a significant risk of dependence with these opioids, making them particularly dangerous.

These new opioids first appeared in France in spring 2023 and have been linked to severe intoxications in regions such as Occitanie and Reunion Island, resulting in two deaths. Similar cases have been reported in England and Eastern Europe, with several deaths linked to these substances since 2023.

Due to the risks posed by these potent opioids and the upcoming influx of visitors to France for events like the Olympics, health authorities have decided to classify these compounds as narcotics. This means that production, sale, and use of these opioids will be prohibited starting July 9th, 2024.

In addition to the immediate ban, authorities have also raised awareness about the signs of opioid intoxication and overdose, which can include consciousness disorders, nausea, respiratory difficulties, pinpoint pupils, increased risk of dependence, and extreme drowsiness leading to coma.

The synthetic opioids, known as « nitazenes » or « benzimidazole derivatives, » have a long history dating back to the late 1950s when they were initially developed as painkillers. However, due to their high risk profile, they were not approved for medical use. These substances resurfaced in the recreational drug market in 2019-2020 in the US, Canada, and Europe, primarily originating from China.

Experts have expressed concerns about the growing popularity of these potent opioids among heroin users, attributing the trend to the decline in opium production in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s ban on poppy cultivation. The emergence of these synthetic opioids in high-income countries has contributed to a rise in overdose-related deaths, prompting authorities to take swift action to curb their availability and use.