An urgent health alert has been issued after three overdoses – one of which was fatal – were linked to “potent opioids” discovered in black market vape juice used to refill vape pens.
NSW Health issued the alert on Monday after discovering nitazenes, a powerful synthetic opioid, in illegal vape juice refill containers.
One of the cases involved a person using a vape refill liquid thought to contain a synthetic cannabinoid similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
But the liquid actually contained a nitazene, leading to an overdose occurring within “a matter of minutes”.
“Nitazenes can be stronger and last longer than fentanyl,” NSW Health said in a statement.
“They are far stronger than most other opioids and an overdose can be caused by taking even a small amount.”
“Overdose has occurred in a matter of minutes, with as little as 6–8 puffs of a vape if it contains a nitazene, even in people who are used to using opioids.”
Nitazenes are not detected by fentanyl strips.
In a statement, NSW Health urged people to be vigilant while buying vape refill juice, as they may be sold something much different.
While e-cigarettes not containing nicotine are legal in NSW, a black market in vape pens has flourished.
8.9 per cent of the Australian population aged over 14 vape regularly, Department of Health statistics from earlier this year reveal.
Experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the product targeting children with different “flavours” such as chocolate or bubble gum-flavoured vape pens.
Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Wollongong tested hundreds of seized vapes for toxic chemicals and nicotine, including 322 vapes surrendered by children at Sydney schools.
Their results found high nicotine concentrations in 737 of the 750 tested devices – despite most of the products not listing nicotine as an active product.
The NSW government has pledged to crack down on the health epidemic, allocating $4.3 million over the next three years to control the market of vaping products.
In addition, community awareness campaigns will be rolled out in the state’s schools to educate children on the dangers of vaping.
The Federal Labor Government is also introducing some of the toughest vaping laws in the world.
From January next year, laws will allow state police and health authorities to enforce bans on the import of all e-cigarettes except pharmaceutical products used to quit smoking.