Emergency services raise alarm over rising number of drug overdoses

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The number of calls to drug-related emergencies has increased significantly in Latvia. New synthetic opioids, which are more dangerous to users, are rapidly spreading to the Latvian market, and overdose is often fatal, Latvian Radio reported March 27.

According to State Police data, last year, 54 people died from a synthetic opioid overdose. Last year, the number of calls to the Emergency Medical Service (NMPD) about drug-related health emergencies increased significantly. More than 2,800 calls were received which is 500 more than in 2021. In January and February, the service has already had more than 500 calls related to drug use. Three people, including two seventeen-year-olds, have died. The latest drug use report of 2019 shows that, for comparison, in 2017 there were 22 overdose-related deaths in Latvia, whereas back in 2010 – less than ten.

“When these drugs are overdosed, the [users] are slowly stopping breathing while they fall asleep. The rate of breathing is reduced to the respiratory stop situation. And then there's a short time until the heart stops. At this point there is a clinical death, and if no help is provided, then biological death. And more often recently, we have seen addicts overdose and the fatal outcome has happened before the time of our arrival. We can't help anymore,” said Alvis Osmanis, assistant doctor for emergency service.

A relatively new group of synthetic opioids – nitazene – drugs – protonitazene, metonitazene, isotonitazene – is rapidly spreading in Latvia. These substances are 100 times more potent than morphine and have a very high risk of overdose.

Police information shows that nitazene group drugs are imported into Latvia in a concentrated way. Diluting and mixing takes place here. It is also one of the causes of frequent overdose, says Sandis Radziņš, head of Department 2 of the Office for Combating Serious and Serial Organized Crimes.

“As we believe, it is related to the poor quality dilution of these hazardous substances by dealers here. [..] In short, no one is using medical tools in this business, which should be used to mix up such serious substances,” Radziņš said.

More than 200 removals of synthetic opioids have been carried out last year. Even 500 kilograms of concentrated substance were found in one case. These drugs are currently the fourth most popular in Latvia. The first three places are occupied by marijuana, psychotropic drugs, and amphetamines.

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