Virginia State Police say they have recovered a synthetic opioid even more powerful and deadly than fentanyl, according to a local report.
Protonitazene is a new synthetic opioid that is around three times more powerful than fentanyl – which is already 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
In December, the Center for Forensic Science Research & Education warned that "nitazenes" were gaining traction across the United States and Canada.
Dr. Kimberly Lane, a chemistry professor at Radford University, told WFXR-TV that protonitazene binds tighter to receptors in the brain, making it more potent. She said the drug has started to become a concern in just the last few months.
"Because it’s a fairly new drug, they’re still looking at how it binds and what that might look like," Lane said.
Narcan is a lifesaving drug used to help people experiencing overdoses. A single nasal spray is usually sufficient to help someone experiencing an overdose caused by fentanyl. However, someone may need two to three times that in order to treat a protonitazene overdose.
Fox News has reached out to Virginia State Police for more details on the encounter and will update this story accordingly.
Fentanyl overdoses, meanwhile, have proliferated nationwide in recent years as the illicit drug has made its way into counterfeit pills – almost always unbeknownst to users.
Last year, U.S. overdose deaths soared to a record of 107,000 driven overwhelmingly by fentanyl and other illegal opioids.
Opioid prescriptions have fallen about 40% in the last decade amid restrictions by hospitals, insurers and state officials. But deaths tied to the medications remain at 13,000 to 14,000 per year. And studies suggest people who become addicted to opioids continue to start with prescription opioids, before switching to cheaper heroin and illegally-made fentanyl.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.