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There's nothing particularly remarkable about its appearance, just a simple white powder that can be sold in bags, capsule, or pill form. And it's also perfectly legal in most jurisdictions despite growing reports of fatalities linked to its use.
When an Upjohn research team first developed the opioid analgesic they named U-47700, it was originally intended to be used in treating severe pain. Seven times more potent than morphine and chemically similar to fentanyl, the new drug was eventually discontinued due to concerns about its potential for abuse. Though never tested on humans in the United States, Chinese researchers have identified a wide range of side effects such as rectal bleeding and severe nerve damage.
Despite the health dangers associated with U-47700, or "Pink" as it's known on the street, the euphoria and sedative effects reported by users has been enough to fuel a growing demand for the new drug in many countries around the world. While Upjohn still owns the patents on U-47700, the published studies have provided enough information for underground laboratories to replicate the formula and make it available for recreational use.
Since the first incident in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2005, there have been numerous reports of fatalities across the United States (some estimates suggest there have well over one hundred deaths). Emergency departments treating patients for U-47700 overdoses are often stymied considering how little information is available regarding the drug and how to treat cases as they arise. Much like W-18, another powerful opiate that also occupies a legal grey area, overseas labs are taking advantage of loopholes in drug laws to stay ahead of law enforcement and feed the high demand for newer and stronger opioids.
To help prevent further deaths, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency arranged for the temporary placement of U-4770 on Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act in September. Even before the DEA's action, Ohio, Florida, Wyoming Illinois, and Georgia enacted their own emergency bans and many other states are expected to follow suit. Unfortunately, even as drug laws and enforcement agencies play catch-up, new psychoactive products are expected to take their place.
According to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, new psychoactive substances are coming along at an average rate of one per week. Not only are underground labs coming up with new drugs on their own, they are also taking advantage of the findings of legitimate drug laboratories seeking to develop new pain remedies, many of which are ultimately abandoned because they are seen as too dangerous for humans.
Many of these labs are from China and sell their products openly using online drug marketing sites. With online forums providing users with an opportunity to share their own experiences with the new drugs, the drug labs can create a market for their product and make it available for willing users.
Though the DEA and the U.S. Congress continues to add new drugs to Schedule 1, the process is largely reactive as drug producers manage to stay ahead of the law. In the meantime, the death toll linked to U-47700 continues to rise.
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