Man-made drugs that mimic the effects of natural opioids (such as opium or heroin) but can be much more deadly. Most synthetic opioids are class A drugs which means they're illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell. Some synthetic opioids are used in the medical field as pain relievers or anaesthetics, others are produced and sold illicitly.
What does it look like?
Synthetic opioids used in medicine mainly come as pills and capsules, patches, lollipops and solutions for injection.
Illegally produced synthetic opioids can also be in a range of forms including pills or powder, often mixed with or replacing heroin. Illicit synthetic opioids are sometimes sold to look like medical opioids or, less commonly, benzodiazepines. They have also been found mixed with synthetic cannabinoids. They are often much more dangerous than what they are sold as or mixed with.
Synthetic opioids can be used in a similar way to natural opiates. They can be injected, sniffed, swallowed or heated and inhaled.
How does it make you feel?
As with natural opiates, the effects of synthetic opioids include:
- pain relief
- euphoria or well-being
- sleepiness, with high doses you might lose consciousness
People also report sweating, itching and feeling, or being, sick.
How long the effects last and the drug stays in your system depends on how much you’ve taken, your size and what other drugs you may have also taken.
Physical health risks
Suppression of normal breathing, including respiratory arrest (when you stop breathing altogether) which is often fatal. If you think someone may be having an opioid overdose, call 999 immediately and start first aid. If naloxone is available, use it.
There is an antidote for these drugs called naloxone, so if you use opioids or know someone who uses them, you should be able to get naloxone for free in your area. Ask your local drug treatment service where.
Other risks include:
- Loss of consciousness and coma
- Dizziness or fainting
- Withdrawal symptoms, including nausea and retching
If you inject synthetic opioids you can do nasty damage to your veins and arteries, and this can lead to gangrene (death of body tissue, usually a finger, toe or a limb), blood clots/thromboses and to infections.
There are also risks from sharing needles, syringes and other equipment used for injecting – with the danger of developing serious tissue infections or spreading viral infections like hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV.
There are also social harms that can develop with repeated use of synthetic opioids, especially if you become addicted. These social harms can include committing crime to afford to buy more synthetic opioids, disruption to your family life and other relationships, general poor health and social functioning including through loss of employment.
What is synthetic opioids cut with?
Potent synthetic opioids like fentanyls and nitazenes are most often found added to heroin, making those who use them more vulnerable to overdose.
It is possible that a synthetic opioid may be contaminated during its production and shipment or it may be mixed with another substance(s), such as sugar, starch or powdered milk, to increase its bulk and the seller’s profits.
Is it dangerous to mix with other drugs?
Yes. There is a greater risk of overdose and death if you mix synthetic opioids with other drugs that suppress breathing such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (like diazepam or Xanax/Valium), and/or other opiate drugs (like heroin).
What happens if I mix Synthetic opioids and
Can you get addicted?
Yes. As with other opiates, you can build a tolerance and become dependent on synthetic opioids.
Most synthetic opioids are Class A, which means it's illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell.
Possession can get you up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Supplying someone else, even your friends, can get you life in prison, an unlimited fine or both.
Like drink-driving, driving when high is dangerous and illegal. If you’re caught driving under the influence, you may receive a heavy fine, driving ban, or prison sentence.
If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a home, club, bar or hostel, they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any other person concerned in the management of the premises.
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