THE National Crime Agency (NCA) has issued a warning following a rise in deaths linked to a new opioid that is “considerably” stronger than heroin or fentanyl.

Nine of those deaths have been confirmed to have taken place in Scotland.

The synthetic opioids, named nitazenes, are being used to fortify heroin. Users may be unaware that the substance they are taking has been altered, according to the NCA.

Nitazenes were initially invented in the 1950s for pharmaceutical research and have no approved medicinal use.

Of the 54 forensically linked drug-related deaths to nitazenes in the UK – nine were in Scotland.

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The NCA confirmed that these deaths took place between June 1 and December 7.

They added that deaths linked to nitazenes have increased from eight in 2021 and 30 in 2022, to 50 in 2023 up to the beginning of October.

An NCA spokesperson said the agency is “proactively monitoring” the threat in order to act quickly.

They said: “The NCA, working closely with policing, Border Force and other international partners, is ensuring that all lines of enquiry are prioritised and vigorously pursued to stem any supply of nitazenes to and within the UK.

“This [is] based on the NCA’s and partners in health and policing’s previous experience in tackling a rise of isotonitazene in 2021, which caused 24 deaths, and a spike of fentanyl-related deaths in 2017.”

According to the NCA, the opioid antidote naloxone still works to prevent overdose death.

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Police Scotland confirmed they were “closely monitoring” the drug type.

Chief Inspector Anton Stephenson said: “Emerging drug trends are constantly monitored and we will act proportionately to any increase in the prevalence or circulation of new or existing drug types.

“Synthetic opioids, known as nitazenes are a drug type we are aware of and which we are closely monitoring.

“We will continue to share information with partners in order to keep people safe.

“We work closely with partners including PHS, Scottish Government, alcohol and drug partnerships and drug support services to raise awareness on the harms caused by substance use, as well as current or emerging trends which can detrimentally impact on these harms.

“We continue to support the Scottish Government drugs strategy and through partnership working, and with the support of local communities, we aim to make Scotland a safer place.”