New Arrivals on the Illicit Drug Market in America
Because a long list of new drugs arrives on the illicit market every year, it is smart to keep track of these often-deadly threats.
The illicit drug market both in America and around the world is a constantly changing situation. It wasn’t always this way, but since unscrupulous chemists began developing new synthetic drugs, it seems that there are always new synthetic drugs appearing on the market. After all, you don’t need a field, crop, rain or harvesters. You just need precursor chemicals and a few chemists who don’t care if they break the law.
In the last decade or so, more than 1,000 different new psychoactive substances (NPS) have been reported to law enforcement agencies around the world. The majority are stimulants, followed by synthetic cannabinoids, hallucinogens and synthetic opioids. In the U.S. in 2022, the largest group has been opioids, followed by cannabinoids, stimulants and hallucinogens.1
Anyone wanting to help fight drug abuse or addiction should be familiar with these new drugs. They are going to show up in drug seizures and toxicology reports after fatal overdoses. They will be found in the pockets of drug users who are likely to not even know what they are consuming.
This name refers to a group of synthetic opioids with chemical formulas and effects similar to those of fentanyl. The Drug Enforcement Administration also refers to this class of drugs as benzimidazole-opioids.
Drugs in this group currently found on the illicit market include:
- N-Desethyl isotonitazene
Chemically-similar drugs are referred to as analogs. All these nitazene analogs are, just like fentanyl, highly addictive and can depress respiration sufficiently to cause death.
The potency of metonitazene is similar to that of fentanyl, while isotonitazene, protonitazene, and etonitazene are much stronger than fentanyl and so can easily cause fatal overdoses. N-Desethyl isotonitazene is 20 times more powerful than fentanyl.2
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, this type of drug has already been present in 94 drug overdose deaths as of the end of 2022.3
If naloxone (Narcan) can be administered early enough, it can reverse an overdose of a nitazene.
Nitazenes have no accepted medical use in the United States. As synthetic opioids, they will be cheap to produce, making them popular with drug traffickers and dealers. They have been found added to supplies of other drugs and may be pressed into counterfeit pills.4 5
Of the more than 1,000 new psychoactive drugs found on the illicit market, more than 200 of them have been synthetic cathinones. This category of drug is frequently referred to as “bath salts.” Every year, new cathinones are detected and this trend is unlikely to stop any time soon.
Cathinones are stimulants and are associated with adverse effects like overheating, dehydration, arrhythmias, hallucinations, and a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Severe serotonin syndrome can cause high fevers, seizures or death.6
The drugs α-PipBP, eutylone and N,N-Dimethylpentylone are examples of new cathinines found on the illicit market.
The appearance of alpha-piperidinobutiophenone on the drug market was only broadly reported by the Drug Enforcement Administration in March 2021. It may be found in pills and powders purchased by those intending to party. It is similar to a popular drug of the same type, alpha-pyrrolidinobutiophenone (α-PBP). As a stimulant, α-PipBP can cause anxiety, agitation, fast heart rate and high blood pressure. Most people are probably unaware that they are consuming this drug.7
This synthetic drug is a stimulant with some qualities similar to amphetamine or MDMA (ecstasy). When the drug experience goes as the user desires, it may cause a warm tingling sensation, euphoria and an intense high. When the experience doesn’t go well, the result can be agitation, vomiting, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and a toxic muscle breakdown that can be fatal. It has a high potential for abuse.
In one recent six-month period in the U.S., this drug was detected more than 8,000 times, making it the seventh-most identified drug in that time period.8
More than 300 eutylone-involved deaths were reported, with most of them occurring in Florida and Maryland. It appears that in most of the deaths involving eutylone, the users did not know they were consuming this drug. They may have thought they were buying MDMA (ecstasy).
While eutylone is a relatively new drug, it is already being replaced in the drug supply by a new formula, N,N-Dimethylpentylone. It is generally being sold as ecstasy, MDMA or Molly. It has been found in 26 postmortem cases, often in combination with other cathinones, methamphetamine or fentanyl.
It has shown up so far in Florida, the Mid-Atlantic states and Arkansas. The age range most commonly affected by this drug is 31 to 40 years.
Xylazine is new to the illicit market but it is not a new drug. It has long been used by veterinarians as an analgesic and muscle relaxant, particularly during diagnostic or surgical procedures. People with pets or farm animals may recognize it by the brand name Rompun.
This drug may be encountered in street drug supplies, added to heroin, cocaine, or other drugs. In one Palm Beach, Florida incident, capsules possessed by a drug dealer contained fentanyl, tramadol, xylazine, and cocaine. In Connecticut, it was found alongside 22 pounds of fentanyl—apparently it was going to be added to the fentanyl before it was sold. In Philadelphia, xylazine was present in seven overdose deaths. Fentanyl was also involved in these deaths, indicating that the fentanyl was adulterated with xylazine. It has also been found in Ohio, Maryland and other states.9 10 11
There is also growing evidence that xylazine is being used in drug-facilitated crimes, including sexual assault.
A non-toxic dose results in pain relief, sedation and relaxation. When a human gets a toxic dose of this drug, they may suffer from these symptoms:
- Burred vision
- Unstable walk
- Low heartbeat
- Respiratory depression
- Low blood pressure
Image courtesy of oasas.ny.govAs with other types of synthetic drugs, chemists are continuing to churn out new formulas of synthetic cannabinoids. It’s the unsuspecting drug users who lose in this deal.
One of the new types of synthetic cannabinoids on the illicit market is called ADB-BINACA or ADB-BUTINACA. It has been found in Massachusetts as an ingredient in heroin or fentanyl purchases.
Similar drugs include AB-FUBICA, ADB-FUBICA, and AB-BICA.
ADB-BINACA and these similar drugs are normally found as unexpected adulterants in supplies of other drugs. Comments from users who had no intention of buying or consuming this drug include:
- Extreme paranoia
- Felt like K2/Spice
- Tripping sensation
- Got an allergy-like reaction at the injection site
- Out-of-body experience
- Blacked out for 5 hours, didn’t remember anything
Synthetic cannabinoids like these can cause seizures, heart attack, kidney damage, pulmonary edema, stroke, delirium, psychosis, rapid loss of consciousness, vomiting, and multiple organ failure.12
This drug may be found in pill form or it may be mixed with powdered drugs. It may also be sprayed on plant material like other synthetic cannabinoids.
On the street, the drug is known as flualp. In formula and effect, it is similar to the benzodiazepine-type drug alprazolam. The brand name for alprazolam is Xanax and it is a highly popular prescription drug among those who abuse drugs.
Unlike alprazolam, however, flualprazolam does not have any accepted medical uses in this country. Its effects include sedation and physical impairment. A dose that is too large can result in severe, prolonged sedation and coma. It is capable of causing a fatal overdose all by itself.
Purchases of flualprazolam are usually completed through the internet. The listing may describe this drug as a “research chemical.” When received, the product will often look like either Xanax or Klonopin so the user will have no idea what drug they are consuming.
The number of reports of this drug has increased hugely over the last several years, jumping from 112 reports to 1,624 in just one year.13
The Future of New Psychoactive Substances
There are no signs that the continuous flow of new psychoactive substances will cease any time soon. Drug traffickers can much more easily set up a drug lab and buy precursor chemicals than they can cultivate a field of opium poppies or coca plants of cannabis bushes. Because there are tens of thousands of chemical plants around the world, an illicit drug-making operation is easy to conceal.
Advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence make it likely that this trend will continue indefinitely and possibly get worse before it gets better.
To protect our youth, young adults, and in fact, humans of all ages, it is smart to understand what we are up against. Young people must know the dangers so they make the right decisions when they are out by themselves. And anyone who has lost his way because of these drugs must be supported by getting them to an effective rehabilitation service. That may be the only way they can regain control of their life and return to their families and communities again.
UN Office on Drugs and Crime. “What are NPS?” UNODC, 2022. UNODC. ↩︎
Center for Forensic Science Research & Education. “New Potent Synthetic Opioid — N-Desethyl isotonitazene —Proliferating Among Recreational Drug Supply in US.” CFSRE, 2023. CSFRE. ↩︎
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Notes from the Field: Nitazene-Related Deaths — Tennessee, 2019–2021.” CDC, 2022. CDC. ↩︎
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse, 2022 Edition.” DEA, 2022. DEA. ↩︎
UN Office on Drugs and Crime. “UNODC EWA: Large seizures of synthetic cathinones in Europe reflect their growing importance on the illicit stimulants market.” UNODC, 2022. UNODC. ↩︎
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Announcement of a Newly Identified Cathinone alpha-Piperidinobutiophenone (α-PipBP).” DEA, 2021. DEA. ↩︎
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Notes From the Field: Overdose Deaths Involving Eutylone (Psychoactive Bath Salts) — United States, 2020.” CDC, 2020. CDC. ↩︎
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Fentanyl Dealer Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Overdose Death.” DEA, 2022. DEA. ↩︎
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Hartford Drug Trafficker Sentenced to More than 11 Years in Federal Prison.” DEA, 2022. DEA. ↩︎
PubMed.gov. “Concurrent detection of heroin, fentanyl, and xylazine in seven drug-related deaths reported from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office.” PubMed, 2008. PubMed. ↩︎
Heller School - Brandeis University. “Synthetic Cannabinoid ‘ADB-BUTINACA’ aka ‘ADB-BINACA’ Detected in Dope/Heroin/Fentanyl.” Heller-Brandeis, undated. Heller-Brandeis. ↩︎
Drug Enforcement Administration. “Flualprazolam (Street Name: Flualp).” DEA, 2020. DEA. ↩︎