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Synthetic drug 'plague' burdens Latvia's healthcare

Take note – story published 1 year and 3 months ago

The widespread use of synthetic opiods is becoming more prevalent recently. Narcologists are concerned that sometimes these substances are found in refillable vapes, which are popular among teenagers, Latvian Television's 4. studija reported February 16.

LTV witnessed the work of the State Emergency Medical Service (NMPD) team at the Central Railway Station in Rīga. The patient had overdosed. A typical patient lately, says the team.

"They are all unconscious, all their breathing has stopped," said NMPD's worker Romāns Cinis. "Not always does [intubation and medication] help. Some new drugs have appeared which our meds cannot always counteract."

According to Cinis, the emergency service finds out about new drugs right after the users  do. 

"At the hospital, they sometimes cannot be saved. Or the person has such brain damage that there is no normal life after that. And it's all due to one dose, slightly too high," said CInis.

According to specialists surveyed by 4. studija, heroin is now 'outdated' and not as readily available. 

"Fentanyl and nitazene substances are now popular. They're new opioids that could not be detected with traditional methods, but now our lab detects them. And we detect more cases within the past month. At least six cases of nitazene derivatives," said the head of Rīga's Psychiatry and Narcology Center's narcological help service Astrīda Stirna.

Among users in Latvia, the derivatives are called šora. LTV listened to the experience of a user: 

"People drop like flies from šora. I tried, and I woke up to the emergency team at home. Twenty minutes they were trying to revive me, but I had taken very very little. A friend also overdosed and died. Why did I take it, almost died too. Good thing the emergency team was called fast, otherwise I would have died too. There's some chemicals in there. Devil knows what. It's not even fentanyl from which people also used to die. From šora, I think it is guaranteed death."

The NMPD statistics show that there were 2,360 drug-related calls in 2021, and 2,807 in 2022. In some cases, medical help was no longer needed. 

The State Police warned that even breathing in the dust of these drugs is dangerous. "Not only the users, but also law enforcement, medical teams are in danger, everyone," said State Police representative Sandis Radziņš.

Meanwhile, throughout Europe, a worrying trend has been observed.

"[The substance] is also filled into vape sticks. Not filled, refilled. Not only the nitazene group but also amphetamines and other psychoactive substances. It is very dangerous. We mostly think about the youth, among whom vapes are very popular. Actually these young people, especially if they buy illegally, don't know what they buy and what they have used," said the narcologist Stirna.

For drug users, first-time offense results in administrative penalty, the next time is criminal liability. Overdose statistics, though, are not improving with penalties. Narcologists are working on an antidote program, which would mean issuing an antidote to each user for emergency situations, but the state has not supported the plan yet.

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