“Gray death” is the newest opioid in the United States, and officials are warning about its dangerous and deadly use.

Gray death is a dangerous opioid combo that has been detected in overdose episodes recorded in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio. The drug got his name over its consistency and dangerous effect, as it looks like a concrete mix and varies in consistency.

Gray Death, Opioid Overdose
Sometimes Gray Death is found as a hard, chunky material and other times as a fine gray powder. Image credit: New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab.

‘Gray death’ is a mix of heroin, fentanyl, and U-47700

The drug is a combination of several opioids responsible for fatal overdoses throughout the U.S. It can have heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, which is sometimes used to tranquilize large animals like elephants, and an opioid called U-47700.

The Drug Enforcement Administration listed the synthetic opioid U-47700 as a Schedule I drug in November 2016. In that moment, the DEA had confirmed 46 deaths associated with U-47700 and noted that 31 of the fatalities occurred in New York and 10 in North California.

drug dealing
The DEA describes U-47700 as a novel synthetic opioid and explained that its abuse parallel that of heroin, prescription opioids and other novel opioids. Photo credit: Health Care Daily Online

“Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis,” said Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry department at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, according to the Associated Press.

In a press release issued on November 10, 2016, the DEA noted that law enforcement agencies reported seizures of the drug in powder form as well as in counterfeit tablets that resembled pharmaceutical opioids. The DEA said that sometimes the drug was found in marked bags with stamped logos, imitating a heroin sale, which led them to believe that some users have consumed the drug without knowing it was gray death.

According to Kilcrease, the drug’s ingredients and concentrations are often unknown to users, which makes gray death particularly lethal. Furthermore, the drugs are strong and can be absorbed through the skin, and simply touching the powder can put users at risk.

Ohio and Georgia face ‘gray death’ epidemic 

Gray death has a higher potency than heroin, according to the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. It has been reported that users inject, swallow, smoke or snort the drug.

Nelly Miles, a spokeswoman for Georgia’s investigation bureau, said that over 50 overdose cases linked to gray death have been reported in the past three months, most in the Atlanta area. Ohio faces a similar crisis, and the coroner’s office said that a similar compound has been coming into the city for months. The Ohio’s attorney general’s office analyzed eight samples found in that state and determined it was gray death.

Opioid-like drug
The combination is the latest in the trend of heroin mixed with opioids, as combos of heroin with fentanyl, for example, have been around for several years in the area. Image Credit: NPR

Ohio suffered in 2015 a spike in fentanyl-related deaths. It was so high that health officials asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send health officials to help address the crisis.

Mixing heroin with other opioids is highly dangerous and it poses a deadly risk to users. Combinations also pose a problem to scientists, as they struggle to find out the components of the mix.

“Normally, we would be able to walk by one of our scientists, and say ‘What are you testing?’ and they’ll tell you heroin or ‘We’re testing fentanyl,'” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, according to Associated Press. “Now, sometimes they’re looking at it, at least initially, and say, ‘Well, we don’t know.'”

In some places, fentanyl is also being mixed with non-opioids, like cocaine. In Rhode Island, officials recommended that persons with a history of cocaine receive supplies of naloxone, an anti-overdose drug.

The fatal combinations are becoming common in the heroin and opioid epidemic, which resulted in 33,000 fatal overdoses around the country in 2015. In Ohio, 3,050 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, and most of the recorded deaths were associated with opioid painkillers or heroin.

In Illinois, Kane County Coroner Rob Russell warned residents about gray death in a press release, as a result of the nationwide epidemic.

“It has been difficult enough to warn citizens of pure heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and other opiates,” said Russell in the press release. “Now all of these substances and more are being combined together and used at an alarming rate, and people are dying because of it.”

Russell noted that he’s unaware if the drug has arrived in Chicago, but he wanted to get the word out about the substance to save some lives.

Source: AP