Nitazenes: The ‘New Fentanyl’ Killing Drug Users in Europe

Up to 300 times more potent than heroin, these synthetic opioids are increasingly showing up in the continent’s drug supply.
needle with synthetic opiod nitazenes and a user

In March of this year, at a flat in Bristol, UK, life-long heroin user Manny plunged a syringe into his groin, one of the few places he’s still able to reach a vein. “The heroin around here is really shit, it’s been cut with something,” he later told VICE. 

Sometimes, those cutting agents dilute the drug’s strength. But recently, a relatively new class of synthetic opioids named nitazenes—which can be up to 300 times stronger than heroin—have found their way into the UK’s drug supply. “I smoked [heroin cut with nitazenes] and it felt like the first time I’d ever taken drugs,” said Manny. 


Since 2010, the opioid crisis has been raging across North America. Last year, over 110,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, according to CDC estimates, with almost 70 percent of these deaths caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. 

But up to now, Europe has largely managed to avoid this deadly wave of synthetic opioids and the death tolls they bring. Late last year, the UK saw a spike in overdose deaths attributed to nitazenes. Since then, the substance has been linked to an average of almost three deaths per week in the UK, according to the BBC

In VICE’s latest episode of the War on Drugs series, heroin users and harm reduction experts across the UK explain this dramatic rise in nitazene-related deaths. 


“A few of my mates, last month, they died,” said Manny. “[Dealers will] sell anything, they want the cheapest [product] for the maximum money.” 

“We lost six friends in the space of two weeks,” said Hywel, another drug user in Bristol. 

The UK—and Europe at large—has always been served by heroin made from Afghanistan’s opium poppies. However, since the Taliban took control of the country in 2021, the rate of poppy production has plummeted. And according to drug expert Judith Yates, this has “left a hole in the market which is going to be filled with synthetic opioids”.

If genuine heroin supplies dry up, Europe could be facing its very own opioid crisis – and as usual, authorities are far from prepared. 

Watch the full episode now on VICE’s YouTube channel.