Police fear rapid rise in deaths from super-strength opioid which is already claiming lives in Wales

  • Detective Superintendent Mark Lewis from South Wales Police spoke with ITV Wales' Dean Thomas-Welch.

A Welsh police force chief says there is a risk that deaths involving nitazenes - a new deadly drug - could rise "exponentially" over the coming weeks and months.

Sixteen deaths related to the synthetic opioid have been recorded in the South Wales and Gwent force areas since December 2023.

In an exclusive interview with ITV Wales, South Wales Police has now told us they are becoming increasingly worried about the spread of the drug, which can be far stronger than opioids like fentanyl, heroin and morphine.

There are worries that nitazenes are being disguised as over-the-counter medicine and then sold on the black market.

It comes after a recent ITV Wales investigation revealed that health officials are "severely concerned" about the influx of the drug.

Detective Superintendent Mark Lewis says they "just don't know where this is going to go", in relation to the number of deaths related to nitazenes rising.

He said: "That's the honest answer. There is a risk this could increase exponentially other the weeks and months to come.

"Our challenge is to keep working hard with our partners to try and prevent that, to get the message out.

"But there is a real risk that could happen. I would encourage users who are worried to link in with their support agencies.

"Some people will have nominated drug workers as well. Get that advice. Get and carry naloxone.

"We fully support and wholeheartedly endorse that advice from our partners. It's going to be a challenge."

In the last week, nitazenes have now become a class A drug, meaning the maximum punishment for possession of them is up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Det Sup Lewis said: "That will help with our enforcement activity as well and hopefully have a preventative effect."

  • Watch ITV Wales' Megan Boot report on this exclusive investigation.

In Cardiff, we previously met one man who said his friends have died from nitazene overdoses. He said the "fatality risk is huge and it’s having a real impact on people’s lives in the city".

Naloxone is a drug which temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

In Wales, there is a peer-to-peer project where those who have experience of drug issues distribute and administer naloxone, while all of the four police forces have officers who carry it.

Need help with substance misuse?

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this article, the following charities offer support:

  • Action of Addiction works across all areas of treatment, research, family support and professional education - 0300 330 0659

  • Frank offers confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law - 0300 123 6600

  • Narcotics Anonymous offers support for anyone who wants to stop using drugs - 0300 999 1212

  • Release offers free and confidential advice about drugs and the law on its helpline on 020 7324 2989 or email: ask@release.org.uk

  • We Are With You supports people with drug, alcohol or mental health problems, and their friends and family

  • The UK Addiction Treatment Group offers free online information and guidance for prescription drug addiction as well as a 24/7 confidential helpline on 0808 274 8029.

  • You can also discuss addiction issues with your GP or call 999 in an emergency

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