For the first time in Africa, traces of highly potent synthetic opioids known as nitazenes have been detected in some drugs used on the continent.

A report focusing on Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau was released Wednesday (Jun. 12) by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

It is based on chemical testing of kush, a derivative of cannabis mixed with synthetic drugs like fentanyl and tramadol and chemicals like formaldehyde.

Researchers found that in Sierra Leone, 83% of the samples were found to contain nitazenes, while in Guinea-Bissau it was identified in 55%.

Nitazenes, powerful synthetic opioids, have long been in use in Europe and North America as well as in Asia where they have been associated with overdose deaths. Some of them can be up to 100 times more potent than heroin and up to 10 times more potent than fentanyl, meaning that users can get an effect from a much smaller amount, putting them at increased risk of overdose and death.

“The GI-TOC ( Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime) believes that these results are the first indication that nitazenes have penetrated retail drug markets in Africa,” the report said.

In Sierra Leone where kush is one of the most widely consumed drugs, President Julius Maada Bio this year declared war on the substance, calling it an epidemic and a national threat.

READ ALSO: Sierra Leone declares emergency over drug abuse

Nitazenes have been detected repeatedly in substances sold to young people in the region such that users are most likely ingesting them “without knowing the risks they face,” Wednesday’s report said.

The authors said their findings suggest that nitazenes are being imported into Sierra Leone from elsewhere and that the substance being sold as kush in Guinea-Bissau was of similar chemical composition to that found in Freetown.

Authors of the report urged officials in both countries to deploy chemical testing equipment to accurately monitor the countries’ illicit drug markets and develop evidence-based responses.

Many young people in West and Central Africa have become addicted to drugs with between 5.2% and 13.5% using cannabis, the most widely used illicit substance on the continent, according to the World Health Organization.

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