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A mural in Limerick City promoting use of Naloxone. Daragh Brophy/The Journal
Addiction

No heroin found among drugs used in recent overdose clusters in Dublin and Cork, HSE finds

According to chemical testing of the drugs, they contained nitazenes which were synthesised in a lab, along with caffeine and paracetamol.

THERE WAS NO heroin contained in the batches of drugs behind a series of overdoses in Dublin and Cork late last year, and instead they were almost entirely synthesised in a lab. 

According to chemical testing of the drugs carried out by the HSE, they contained nitazenes which were blended in a lab, along with caffeine and paracetamol.

Eamon Keenan, national clinical lead for addiction services in the HSE, said the drugs associated with two overdose clusters late last year were nitazenes, a potent and highly risky synthetic opioid, and testing has indicated the batches did not contain any heroin.

He told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland that there is no fentanyl in circulation in Ireland – and fears about fentanyl may have proved a distraction from the emerging problem of nitazenes here.

Yesterday, the government unveiled plans to extend naloxone this year after its vital role in saving lives during recent overdose clusters in Dublin and Cork.

The prescription-only medication is used as an antidote to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, morphine, methadone and synthetic opioids like nitazene if someone overdoses.

Keenan told RTÉ that subsequent testing has revealed the makeup of the batches involved in recent multiple overdoses.

“They were being sold as new heroin or strong heroin, but when we did the analysis we identified that there was actually no heroin in it,” Keenan said.

“It was nitazene drug mixed with paracetomol and caffeine and being sold, so in some ways we were wondering whether dealers were testing the market by introducing this new drug,” he added.

The type of nitazene identified in the Irish market was “15 times more powerful than fentanyl”, Keenan said.

He added: “We’ve heard a lot about fentanyl. We’ve seen no evidence on the Irish market that fentanyl is here yet.

“We’ve seen the identification of these nitazene drugs which are actually more potent … so our concern is that maybe all the talk about fentanyl is that’s distracted people.

“They hear us talking about nitazenes and they say well at least it’s not fentanyl and they may be tempted to take the nitazenes, whereas in actual fact the nitazenes are more potent than fentanyl.”

He added that this latest dose of nitazenes may have their origin in Asia, but said this is yet to be confirmed.

Keenan said overdose deaths linked to this drug are being investigated in conjunction with coroners in Dublin and Cork.

Further testing will also take place to determine whether some other deaths involving drugs in recent months involved nitazenes. Information on this is expected in the coming weeks.

“Any drug-related deaths which may have occurred around that time period, we need toxicology and lab results to be able to determine that, but they have prioritised those,” Keenan said.

Containing reporting by Órla Ryan

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