ISO, a dangerous synthetic opioid stronger than fentanyl, showing up in Florida

Reporter: Peter Fleischer
Published: Updated:

A powerful synthetic opioid called ISO is increasingly showing up in overdoses and deaths across the country, and it’s also here in Florida and on the radar of law enforcement.

Isotonitazene, or ISO, is a derivative of etonitazen.

The opioid epidemic is considered a public health emergency, with an average of 136 deaths per day and climbing.

Mike Palumbo with White Sands Treatment Center knows the numbers well. He says, “The line between not being sick and overdosing is so close.”

He helps addicts recover, but once, he himself was in the same dark place.

“In my early 20s, I got introduced to pain pills at the height of the pharmaceutical sales and opioid crisis. And I liked the way it made me feel it,” Palumbo explained. “It’s a brain disorder that hijacks the pleasure sensor, the pleasure center of your brain, and basically tells your brain that the opioids are the most important thing for survival.”

Now nine years into his recovery, Palumbo hasn’t seen ISO here yet, but he knows it’s only a matter of time.

“This will just continue to increase the problem at hand where opioid deaths will continue to soar,” he added. “And a lot of times with new substances. Going undetected is a huge problem.”
Justin Miller is the intelligence chief of the Miami division of the DEA, and he said they’re seeing ISO a little more in Central Florida, and particularly on the Gulf coast.

ISO is classified as a Schedule I narcotic.

“It’s an illegal narcotic, no medical use,” Miller said. “As you see other synthetic opioids such as ISO, or other compounds as well, that are just as potent – and potentially more so than fentanyl – that it’s going to have a direct correlation within with drug overdoses and fatalities.”

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco says his deputies have seen the illicit synthetic opioid in their jurisdiction, describing it as “a powdery substance.”

“It’s automatically assumed that it’s fentanyl, but when they sent it to the lab, the lab report came back from FDLE,” explained Nocco. “It’s actually a new drug that is much stronger. You know, sometimes people say 20 times stronger than fentanyl. Some people say 100 times stronger fentanyl.”

Narcotics Anonymous, or Narconon, reports that ISO is being used to replace heroin or other opioids, whether the users know they are taking it or not. It’s not just the user who’s at risk.

Miller said, “One of the big dangers with the synthetic opioids is it can come in through nasal passages or through the skin, especially the much more potent elements; compounds such as the one we’re we’re discussing. And yes, It can lead to an overdose for somebody who’s not intentionally ingesting it.”

But there is help and hope.

Palumbo said he is living proof. “You know I’m able to be a functioning member of society and be a member of this community helping other people in this community.”

Another potential danger – Narcan may not work on ISO, or someone may need several doses, which is a very scary thing for parents to hear.

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