Investigation Uncovers Thousands of Advertisements Selling High-Potency Opioids Associated with 100 Fatalities

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An alarming number of online advertisements are promoting deadly super-strength opioids linked to over 100 UK deaths, raising concerns about the growing threat of these potent drugs.

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Nitazenes, a class of synthetic opioids recently classified as illegal Class A drugs, were found advertised in nearly 3,000 posts on SoundCloud and over 700 posts on X, formerly Twitter, according to an investigation by the BBC England Investigations Team. These drugs, some of which are 500 times stronger than morphine, have been detected in UK prisons and are flooding drug markets.

The investigation revealed how drug dealers use social media to advertise these powerful substances, which are then shipped via post. The posts on SoundCloud, often brief audio clips lasting a few seconds, listed the drug’s name and contact information in the title. Some posts had been online for over a year, and similar advertisements on X had been visible for more than 18 months.

Shockingly, the BBC investigators found that 30 out of 35 suppliers contacted offered to ship the drugs to the UK. One supplier, previously indicted and sanctioned in the US for shipping 15kg of nitazenes from China, had a post still visible on X in March 2024.

In response, SoundCloud said it removed nearly 3,000 posts and is committed to tackling this issue. X also removed hundreds of posts, but many remained online weeks later, according to the BBC report.

The growing presence of nitazenes is raising alarms within law enforcement and health communities. The National Crime Agency reported that there have been more than two nitazene-related deaths a week on average since June last year.

One of the first UK deaths was that of 21-year-old musician Dylan Rocha, who died after unknowingly taking heroin containing nitazenes. His mother, Claire, expressed her shock at the ease with which these drugs are being advertised. “How has that been allowed to happen? How many people have died as a result of that being advertised there?” she said.

Professor Vicki Nash, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, described the discovery of thousands of adverts promoting these deadly drugs as “horrifying,” pointing out the significant risks to human life.

Mike Trace, a former government drug tsar, highlighted the severity of the crisis. “We are currently experiencing an ‘overdose crisis,’ with nearly 5,000 drug-related deaths in England and Wales each year,” he said. Trace warned that the widespread presence of nitazenes could lead to a US-style opioid epidemic, dramatically increasing the rate of drug-related deaths.

The Home Office said it has launched an “intensive operational effort to track down [nitazenes] and their suppliers.” Despite these efforts, the risks associated with the online sale of these powerful opioids persist, raising the urgency for continued vigilance and tighter regulations.

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