Van Beek: This designer drug is a killer |

Van Beek: This designer drug is a killer

Karen Fitzgerald, a clinical supervisor at Tara Treatment Center in Franklin, Indiana, said: “If an addict is told that gray death will kill you 100% of the time but you’re going to get the best high before you die, they would do it.” 

The newest creation in designer drugs is called “gray death,” and the name says it all. It seems that when just plain opioids are not enough, and we need to attach the word “designer,” suddenly everyone wants it. It is often referred to as “The Trojan Horse of the opioid epidemic” and made its first appearance in 2017. After a brief lull in its popularity, likely due to a large number of deaths, for some reason, it is now back and stronger than ever.

Gray is this designer’s color and the drug looks like small chunks of concrete or powder but may be pressed into tablet form. 

It is a lab-created opioid cocktail that can contain fentanyl, carfentanil (fentanyl’s more potent cousin, which can be legally purchased by veterinarians for use as a large animal tranquilizer), heroin, U-47700 (also known as Pink/U4, which is a synthetic opioid, imported primarily from China), and whatever other chemicals the drug dealer has on hand. And, don’t be fooled by the term “lab,” which creates visions of white coats and sterile conditions — these are more likely dirty garages run by gang members. 

Some gray death comes from foreign labs, while other doses are being made in Louisiana, Texas, and other states and spreading across the country. Given the dire consequences, even promoted in the name, why is it gaining in popularity? It’s powerful and it’s cheap, for both buyers and dealers. Last May, the Drug Enforcement Administration confiscated 170 grams of Gray Death. It can be injected, swallowed, smoked, or snorted and sells for about $20 per hit.

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Gray death is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. While both are used, the difference between fentanyl and carfentanil is potency. Fentanyl is 50-100 times stronger than morphine (only 2 mg can cause death) and carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl. Until 2017, fentanyl was sold legally online, through Chinese distributors. 

Many users mistake gray death for heroin and with its increased potency, they overdose. It’s pushed to them as “gray heroin.” Those who do know of its potency are often more afraid of withdrawal than overdose. They are not doing it to die, despite the name — they are doing it for the ultimate high. 

20 micrograms will kill you, and a portion weighing the equivalent of 1 grain of rice, equals 1,000 deadly doses. It causes “fatal respiratory depression,” which is when the body “forgets” to breathe.

This synthetic drug is made of smaller molecules than heroin and can penetrate the skin. While touching it may take up to 45 minutes for the liquid form to get absorbed through the skin, that isn’t always the case, as so many variables can affect topical absorption, and accidentally inhaling it can cause an almost immediate and deadly reaction.

Gray death is somewhat resistant to naloxone (Narcan) and often requires multiple doses. An officer in Ohio recently accidentally overdosed on the gray death when he brushed off some residue of the drug from his jacket after an arrest. Within 10 minutes he began displaying symptoms of overdose. In an emergency room, it took four doses of Narcan to revive him. Reversal of the effects could take five to 10 naloxone doses, which is rarely on hand.

With the combination of fentanyl, carfentanil, and U-47700, gray death has the potential to be the deadliest drug on the street today because a dose that isn’t even visible to the eye can kill you. But its deadliest ingredient is carfentanil.

Carfentanil is clear, odorless, and virtually undetectable by its victims. Most are unaware they are ingesting a lethal poison. Some compare its toxicity to nerve gas. Like other illegal drugs, there is no ability to detect what additives have been included in the making of this synthetic lab creation. 

If you survive your first hit, you may soon discover the true meaning of addiction. Drug addiction has no socioeconomic boundaries, nor does it care if you are a child with a promising future, a successful career professional, a retired senior wanting to improve their golf game … drugs have no prejudice. They will happily go with anyone and you may find it extremely difficult to get rid of them, or they may leave quickly, with you in tow. 

The opioid crisis is real, and it is growing in this valley and elsewhere. The increased potency of these new drugs makes using them even once deadly.

Be safe. Seek help. You are worth so much to this community. Please don’t leave this earth early. We need you.

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