What Is gray death and why should we all be concerned?
In the United States, heroin is not what it used to be. In the old days, heroin was simply heroin. While there was some variation in the potency of this dangerous and addictive opioid, for the most part, heroin was simply an opiate derived from the poppy with approximately four times the potency of morphine.
Currently, heroin on the streets is a different substance. Heroin is now a combination of fentanyl and heroin. In fact, in many cases, what is sold as heroin is pure fentanyl. In addition to this heroin and fentanyl combo, there is another deadly form, known on the streets as gray death.
1) Off the charts potency in a drug called gray death.
Gray death is a lethal drug made up of various drug combinations, including opiates, opioids, synthetic designer drugs, and more, to make a deadly combination that can get users very high. In addition to opioids, grey death may contain benzodiazepines and barbiturates, as well as amphetamine and methamphetamine.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigations has seized samples of gray death and described its appearance and chemical makeup. What they have discovered is fascinating and terrifying for opioid users who are now at higher risk for fatal overdoses.
In addition to Georgia and Alabama, gray death has been seen in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. It may especially be responsible for drug overdoses in regions along the Gulf Coast.
2) One drug that stands out is known as “Pink.”
Pink is the street name for a drug named U-47700. This dangerous designer drug imported from clandestine drug labs in China, possibly Wuhan, comes in powder or tablet form. It is often white or light pink, with a chalky texture.
U-47700 has been designated by drug enforcement by emergency scheduling as a schedule I drug, with no medical use and highly dangerous. It is sold online as a research chemical and not for human consumption.
The misleading description and the unique synthetic chemical signature are tactics to evade criminal prosecution. Opioids called by other names because they are not derived or synthesized from opiates should still be thought of as opioids.
Pink, also known as “Pinky” and “U4”, has been found in fake oxy tablets. These tablets appear to be Oxy IR, or Roxicodone tablets, the familiar little blue pills that have street recognition. While they seem to be prescription tablets, they are, in fact, pure “Pink” U-47700.
In Ohio, authorities seized 500 of these deadly tablets. Drug users who believe they are playing it safe using only prescription opioids could be putting themselves in harm’s way.
U-47700 can cause immediate severe respiratory depression, and it causes overdoses that are Narcan resistant. When paramedics give naloxone nasal spray or injection, they have to dose at 5-10 times the usual dose and, even then, it may not work adequately.
3) Gray Death may be highly lethal even to an elephant.
In addition to U-47700, gray death can also contain fentanyl and carfentanil. While “Pink” is 7-8 times the potency of morphine, carfentanil is known to be about 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
It is so potent that if it comes in contact with a person’s skin, it can cause intoxication and even overdose. Because of this, first responders, including police and paramedics, now wear nitrile gloves instead of latex, which is porous enough for the drug to reach the skin and be absorbed through the skin.
This dangerous and toxic drug puts first responders, including paramedics, doctors, and police officers, at risk for accidental overdose. If this addictive and deadly substance is present, merely touching it can lead to an opioid overdose. It can even pass through the pores of a latex glove.
Carfentanil is commonly known as an elephant tranquilizer. Imagine a drug powerful enough to knock out an Elephant!
4) Is it possible that gray death contains other novel synthetic opioids?
Yes, when it comes to synthetic designer drugs, anything is possible. Hidden away in clandestine labs, corrupted scientists work hard to tweak molecules that act as agonists of the mu-opioid receptor and other receptors that add to the drug high. The idea is to create new drugs that work similarly to existing drugs but with chemical signatures that skirt current drug laws.
We know that a great deal of advanced science is happening without proper oversight in various parts of the world. From human cloning to viral research, to drug manufacturing and research, the results of science without legal and ethical controls can harm people worldwide, as we are now witnessing with COVID-19.
5) Designer opioids can cause death and permanent disability.
There are a great many synthetic drugs that not only mimic the effects of opioids; they may also act as synthetic hallucinogens and stimulants. One significant problem with these designer drugs is that we do not know about all of the dangerous potential adverse reactions. We only learn about what can happen after a widespread tragedy.
For example, there was an incident in the 80s where a synthetic analog of the opioid Demerol, or meperidine, caused deaths and permanent severe disability for many victims. The drug, known as MPTP, caused its victims to develop irreversible symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Imagine the tragedy of a person trying to get high and not feel sick from opioid withdrawal on the streets, and they now live with this permanent disability.
6) Drug tests cannot detect gray death.
When it comes to synthetic drugs such as “Pink,” there are not available drug tests for them. However, forensic labs may use advanced techniques to reveal their presence.
If a gray death sample contains a known drug, such as fentanyl, it may test positive for that drug. Yet, it is possible that, given the high potency of gray death with its multiple ingredients, the sample may be small and fall below the threshold of the test.
If an overdose victim shows typical signs of opioid toxicity, such as pinpoint pupils, lethargy, and shallow breathing, they should receive emergency treatment, including naloxone for overdose reversal. Even if the drug test comes back negative, it could still be an opioid overdose that may involve gray death.
7) Gray death may be naloxone-resistant.
The best thing we can do is to provide harm reduction for drug users in the states and throughout the world to protect them from Gray Death. Naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, is an emergency overdose reversal drug administered by nasal spray or injection. We need to make this rescue drug more available.
And, we must be aware that gray death can be Narcan-resistant, and an overdose victim may require a higher Narcan dose. Of course, protecting first responders is vital as well.
How can we combat Gray Death?
By educating law enforcement and healthcare workers on the risks of gray death exposure, we will reduce accidental overdose cases. Additionally, preventing clandestine labs around the world from creating components of this drug and importing it to the US will save many lives.
Above all, educating drug users will help prevent many tragedies. If people who misuse prescription opioids obtained on the streets realize that they may be buying gray death tablets, they will likely stop and seek treatment. If heroin users understand that they may be using dangerous opioid analogs instead of pure heroin, they too will realize that now is the best time to quit and seek help.