HSE warns of dangerous opioids after overdoses in prison population

Drug users urged to avoid new types of drugs over concern about nitazenes sold as heroin

The HSE has extended its red alert about a potent synthetic opioid to Irish prison settings following a number of overdoses among the prison population.

The HSE says it remains concerned about the presence of nitazenes which are being sold on the streets of Dublin and Cork as heroin.

“While safer not to use drugs, we urge individuals who use drugs to avoid new types of drugs or new batches being sold.

“Irish overdoses have been linked with a light brown/tan powder containing a nitazene drug called ‘N-Pyrrolidino Protonitazene’.


“Mind yourself, care for others and make a safety plan if you use in prison. Nitazenes are strong synthetic opioids that can cause serious overdoses, hospitalisation and drugs-related death.”

HSE Ireland says that two types of nitazenes are being found on the market.

“Nitazenes can come in a variety of different coloured powders. Treat all powders with extreme caution at this time. The HSE continues to monitor the market. Nitazene-type drugs have also been found in illicit tablets in the UK.”

N-Pyrrolidino Protonitazene is stronger than fentanyl. The HSE indicates that there is a “high risk for people who use heroin at this time”.

“These substances may appear sporadically and unexpectedly. This means that there is ongoing concern for people who use heroin and there is a high risk of nitazene exposure and overdose.”

Meanwhile, last November, the HSE National Social Inclusion Office was notified of overdoses of concern occurring in homeless settings in Inner City Dublin.

This triggered an urgent review across a number of information sources to identify possible signals of change on the Dublin drug market.

Data was monitored by the HSE from the November 9th-12th which was the main period where overdose clusters were reported. A total of 57 non-fatal overdoses were recorded during this time.

There are always risks and all drug user groups are advised to follow harm-reduction measures and get medical help immediately if a person becomes unwell

—  HSE

Analysis by Forensic Science Ireland of a sample obtained by Gardaí on the evening of the November 10th confirmed the emergence of nitazenes in a light brown/sandy-coloured powder on the Dublin heroin market.

This resulted in the HSE issuing a red alert for the city. This was later confirmed as N-Pyrrolidino Protonitazene which was the first identification for Ireland and a substance that is under intensive monitoring by the EU Drugs Agency.

In addition to the initial Dublin outbreak, nitazenes have since been detected in the Cork market following a steady increase of overdoses in the city. As of mid-December, red alerts remain in place for the Dublin and Cork Regions.

An Irish National Red Alert Group (NRAG) has been formed to monitor cases of concern and to rapidly respond to future outbreaks should they occur.

The HSE indicates that at present, it is only the heroin market that is impacted by the emergence of nitazenes in Ireland.

“Of concern is the emergence of these substances being sold as falsified tablets in the UK (mainly as benzodiazepines and oxycodone).

This is an area that needs to be intensively monitored for future developments. There are always risks and all drug user groups are advised to follow harm-reduction measures and get medical help immediately if a person becomes unwell.”