Several states are taking measures to halt the spread of an unapproved opioid drug eight times more powerful than morphine that has been linked to at least 50 deaths in the U.S. Georgia, Ohio, Wyoming and Kansas have already banned or taken action to ban the medication, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has yet to control it.
The drug, known as U-47700, is a synthetic opioid that is either swallowed , snorted or injected. U-47700 can cause eye, skin, or respiratory irritation and is harmful if inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. The drug produces strong effects including sedation and respiratory depression, which can be fatal.
U-47700 was developed by UpJohn in the 1970s but is not approved in the U.S. as it has no accepted medical use and poses a risk to public health, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) said. However, it is not controlled by the DEA. It is currently being manufactured by companies in China and can be obtained through various sources, including the internet.
Parents and caregivers are advised to look out for packages and mailing labels that indicate shipments from overseas, usually China. The substance is often sold in containers – vials or plastic zipper baggies – that are labeled “Not for Human Consumption” or “For Research Purposes Only,” the KBI said. “This is a tactic frequently utilized by manufacturers of illegal drugs; unknown substances with these markings should be considered suspicious.”
Drug agents warn that U-47700 is growing in popularity and is being used by more and more people as a quick-fix for coping with pain, or by those who use the drug recreationally. This, agents warn, could result in dire consequences. At least 50 deaths have already been linked to the drug.