The drug known as Pink is nearly eight times more powerful than heroin and is being connected to several deaths nationwide. Known to chemists as U-47700, the deadly synthetic opioid is easily purchased online and shipped to just about anyone.
"This stuff is so powerful that if you touch it, you could go into cardiac arrest," Park City, Utah, Police Chief Wade Carpenter told NBC News. "The problem is if you have a credit card and a cell phone, you have access to it."
In early September, two teenage boys in Park City died within two days of each other after allegedly experimenting with Pink. Grant Seaver, 13, was found dead from an apparent overdose of U-47700 on September 11. Just 48 hours later, the lifeless body of Ryan Ainsworth, also 13, was discovered by his father. Investigators believe the two decided to try Pink after participating in discussions about the drug on SnapChat and other social media sites.During the investigations of the two U-47700 deaths, a teenage girl came forward and admitted to police she had helped two other boys obtain the drug. According to her statement, the girl had allowed a package delivered to her home after the synthetic opioid was purchased online from a company in China.
Inside the package was "a clear bag with a white powder substance," she told police. She then gave the bag to two friends. The police report does not specify if either Ainsworth or Seaver received any part of that package.
Local authorities believe at least 15 teens may be connected to the recreational use of Pink. According to Carpenter, several searches at the Park City school where the students attend found traces of both methamphetamine and U-47700 on the kids' belongings.
While 80 deaths nationwide have been linked to the synthetic opioid, only four states have banned U-47700. Alarmed by eight deaths directly associated with Pink, Florida passed a law in September prohibiting the opioid. Ohio, Georgia, and Wyoming had done so previously.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency took its own action on September 7 by temporarily classifying U-47700 as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, essentially making it illegal throughout the United States. This officially puts Pink in the same category as other dangerous drugs, including heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
While the federal government and some states are proactively banning Pink, many states are just learning that U-47700 even exists. Most transactions are done online and through the mail, so they go unnoticed by law enforcement unless an overdose death occurs. Additionally, crafty chemists can modify the formula and create new variations of Pink, essentially skirting states laws against the drug.
"The hardest part is when something new comes up, and no one in the country or world has seen it in a forensic setting yet and trying to decide what that actual structure or drug is," said Bryan Holden, senior forensic scientist with the Utah Department of Public Safety. "Sometimes we have had cases where the substance sat for months and months -- no one had ever seen it before, and until someone else sees it or manufactures it then we kind of know what it is."Initially formulated in the 1970s as an alternative to morphine, U-47700 is now commonly produced by chemists in Europe and Asia using published patents and recipes. The effects of the drug vary among individuals who consume the substance and can be fatal even when taking a small dose.
From 1999 to 2014, the number of opioid-related deaths haS quadrupled from 8,050 to 28,647, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdose deaths related specifically to synthetic opioids like Pink increased from 730 to 5,544 in the same time period.
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