‘Gone’: Warning on deadly Chinese lab drug

Claire Rocha talks to 60 Minutes about the dangers of Nitazenes. Picture: 60 Minutes
Claire Rocha talks to 60 Minutes about the dangers of Nitazenes. Picture: 60 Minutes

A deadly type of painkiller which can be a thousand times stronger than morphine is being shipped en masse to Western countries from Chinese labs, landing right in the hands of vulnerable Aussies.

Nitazenes, a highly potent synthetic opioid developed in the 1950s, never made it onto pharmacy shelves due to its strength.

But a 60 Minutes program has exposed how the painkillers are now entering the illicit drug market more than 50 years on – with experts revealing any type of substance from MDMA to cocaine, counterfeit painkillers and even vapes, could be laced with the lethal substance.

Caitlin Dooley from drug harm reduction program DanceWize revealed her first encounter with nitazenes was when her team were called to respond to reports of a drug overdose at a Sydney party.

Small pills marked with a Red Bull logo were being sold as MDMA, but Ms Dooley realised they were laced with the deadly substance.

Nitazenes, a potent synthetic opioid, are flooding into Australia from Chinese labs. Picture: 60 Minutes
Nitazenes, a potent synthetic opioid, are flooding into Australia from Chinese labs. Picture: 60 Minutes

“These people were being administered naloxone, which is an opioid reversal drug,” she told the program.

“They would be okay for 20 minutes and they would go back down again.”

Multiple people were treated with naloxone that night, with Ms Dooley saying they would “just drop” as a result of nitazenes.

If not for the treatment, those people would not have survived.

Twenty nitazene-linked deaths have already reported in Australia, on top of dozens of overdoses.

Health authorities have issued multiple alerts for the dangerous substance, with one from NSW Health in November linking a death to nitazenes found in black market vape juice, which are used to refill vape pens.

Consumption of nitazenes can lead to overdoses and death. Picture: 60 Minutes
Consumption of nitazenes can lead to overdoses and death. Picture: 60 Minutes
60 Minutes exposes the dangers of nitazenes. Picture: 60 Minutes
60 Minutes exposes the dangers of nitazenes. Picture: 60 Minutes

Australian mum Claire Rocha lost her son Dylan to nitazenes three years ago, after he took drugs that were laced with nitazenes while in England.

Speaking to the program, Ms Rocha revealed the grief she had been stricken with as a result of her 21-year-old’s death.

“So I went upstairs and he was unresponsive on the bed and he was turning blue,” Ms Rocha said.

“But it was already too late. He’d already gone.

“And the paramedic came out and said: ‘I’m really sorry. We’ve done everything we can. Dylan has actually passed away.’

“He did make some very questionable decisions and choices. But at the end of the day, what he took, he thought he was safe in taking, he’d taken that amount before, he thought he’d be okay.

“And he wasn’t.”

Claire Rocha talks lost her son Dylan to nitazenes. Picture: 60 Minutes
Claire Rocha talks lost her son Dylan to nitazenes. Picture: 60 Minutes

The program revealed many of the nitazenes making their way into Australia were being made in chemical factories in China and could be easily bought through websites.

One claimed to offer $US7000 per kilogram of nitazenes and even offered to send it via express post.

In a chilling twist, Ms Rocha revealed it was likely her son’s drugs were arriving in her own letterbox via post.

“You can get it in a list, you can get a shopping list on TikTok these days or other things,” she said.

“Very easy to get hold of. They’ll send it through the post to you.

“It’s very easy to obtain. Yeah. And scary really.”

Asked if she could say one last thing to Dylan, Claire replied: “I’ll just tell him that I love him and that he doesn’t need to be sorry for anything.”