Alert issued over dangerous counterfeit tablets

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8 May 2023

Queenslanders are warned against taking illegally sourced drugs following the seizure of counterfeit medications containing life-threatening substances.

Tablets found during various investigations this year have tested positive to protonitazene, a very strong opioid that can be fatal even in small amounts.

The tablets have been branded to appear as genuine medications including Xanax, which is not available commercially in Australia.

Queensland Health’s Executive Director of Mental Health, Alcohol and Other Drugs Branch Associate Professor John Allan urged people not to consume counterfeit or altered medications and substances under any circumstances.

“Protonitazene can lead to respiratory failure, loss of consciousness, coma and death, even if taken in small quantities,” he said.

“Anyone who suspects they have fake tablets are advised to dispose of them safely.

“Many of the counterfeit tablets appear genuine and are in labelled Xanax bottles. Unsuspecting users may not notice they are counterfeits.

“Nitazenes, including protonitazene, are a group of synthetic opioids that can be as strong or stronger than fentanyl. They have been detected in Queensland and other states and territories in various forms including tablets, powders and liquids.

“This highlights why people should not source substances illegally. You could unknowingly be taking a potentially fatal substance.”

In addition to loss of consciousness and respiratory failure, symptoms of opioid overdose include shallow breathing, slow or erratic pulse, confusion, small pupils, unresponsiveness, and bluish or greyish skin from poor circulation.

Anyone who experiences any toxic effects after drug use should seek medical attention immediately by calling Triple Zero (000) for emergency assistance; going to their nearest emergency department; or calling the Queensland Poisons Information Centre (13 11 26).

Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose. As part of the Take Home Naloxone Program, it is available for free from some registered pharmacies and alcohol and other drug services.

A list of participating sites is found at

Anyone with information about counterfeit medications should contact Policelink on 131 444.