Blames it in part for scores of deaths around the U.S.
The Drug Enforcement Administration placed a synthetic opioid called U-47700 on the most restrictive list of controlled substances, calling the drug a threat to public health and blaming it in part for scores of deaths around the U.S.
The ban, which is scheduled to take effect Monday, is the latest action by the DEA to try to crack down on the growing peril of synthetic narcotics. Unlike opioids such as heroin and the painkiller oxycodone that derive from the opium poppy, synthetic narcotics can be produced more easily and more cheaply in labs. They are worsening the country’s already severe crisis of opioid abuse, which killed more than 28,000 people in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The designer drugs come mostly from Chinese labs, many of which sell them openly online and dub them “research chemicals” to provide a patina of legitimacy, according to the DEA. Many of the substances are variants of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.
The labs can rely on existing scientific papers and patents to produce new drugs. That was the case with U-47700, a relic of 1970s pharmaceutical research that never made it to market and was the subject of an investigation by The Wall Street Journal published last week. When law enforcement moves to ban one substance, the labs can simply turn to another that hasn’t been restricted yet.
“Because substances like U-47700 are often manufactured in illicit labs overseas, the identity, purity and quantity are unknown, creating a ‘Russian Roulette’ scenario for any user,” the DEA said in a news release announcing the ban. The agency placed the drug on Schedule I, the category for chemicals the DEA says have no medical purpose and present high potential for abuse.
U-47700 was associated with 46 fatalities in 2015 and 2016, according to the DEA. The Journal investigation noted that NMS Labs, a major private lab outside Philadelphia that works with states, tallied 105 overdose deaths related to U-47700 just this year, through September. Axis Forensic Toxicology, a private lab firm in Indianapolis, linked another 20 deaths to the drug. The fatalities occurred in at least 31 states, from Alaska to Florida.
Some users take U-47700 knowingly. They can frequent online drug forums to discuss the drug and its effects. And they can order it online from Chinese labs or intermediaries and have it shipped directly to their homes. In interviews with the Journal, users have said U-47700 provides a euphoric high but is short-lasting and can quickly create intense cravings.
Other users, however, may take U-47700 unknowingly, the DEA said. Dealers sometimes mix it with other opioids and it also has appeared in counterfeit prescription painkillers.
Source: (Wall Street Journal, 11/12/16)