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NSW Health Issues Alert After Death And Overdoses Linked To Illicit Vape Juice

24 November 2023 | 3:28 pm | Jessie Lynch

"Overdose has occurred in a matter of minutes, with as little as 6–8 puffs of a vape if it contains a nitazene."


Vape (Canva)

An urgent health alert has been issued by NSW Health after three overdoses — one fatal — were linked to potent opioids found in black-market vape juice refills.

The alert followed the discovery of nitazenes — a highly potent synthetic opioid — in illegal vape juice containers.

In one of the reported cases, a person used a vape refill liquid and believed it to contain a synthetic cannabinoid similar to THC, but instead, it contained a nitazene, leading to an overdose within 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.”

“Nitazenes can also affect a person’s breathing more than other opioids. 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.”

They cautioned that “Fentanyl test strips will not detect nitazenes.”

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In NSW, while vapes that do not contain nicotine are legal and can be purchased and used by adults, the sale of vapes containing nicotine is illegal.

Since October 2021, nicotine-containing vapes and vape juice have been classified as prescription-only medicines in Australia. They can only be purchased from pharmacists by individuals over 18, provided they have a valid prescription.

Despite current laws, the illegal sale of products through the black market continues to be an issue, with Australia set to introduce a major reform in smoking regulations as it prepares to further tighten the importation of vapes in the country. 

The $234 million crackdown comes as part of the country's efforts to reduce the number of young people vaping and the associated health risks and will see disposable vapes completely banned, as well as new restrictions on flavours and colours.

NSW Health is continuing to conduct regular tests on vapes in its laboratories to monitor and control the quality of products in the market as part of a broader initiative to curb the health risks associated with vaping.

For more information, see here.

If you have consumed a substance and experience adverse effects, seek help immediately by calling Triple Zero (000).