It’s being called “gray death” — a new and dangerous opioid combo that underscores the ever-changing nature of the U.S. addictions epidemic. Investigators who nicknamed the mixture have detected it or recorded overdoses blamed on it in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio. The drug looks like concrete mix and varies in consistency from a hard, chunky material to a fine powder. The substance is a combination of several opioids blamed for thousands of fatal overdoses nationally, including heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil — sometimes used to tranquilize large animals like elephants — and a synthetic opioid called U-47700.
“Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis,” Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said.
Gray death ingredients and their concentrations are unknown to users, making it particularly lethal, Kilcrease said. In addition, because these strong drugs can be absorbed through the skin, simply touching the powder puts users at risk, she said. Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed U-47700 in the category of the most dangerous drugs it regulates, saying it was associated with dozens of fatalities, mostly in New York and North Carolina. Some of the pills taken from Prince’s estate after the musician’s overdose death last year contained U-47700. Gray death has a much higher potency than heroin, according to a bulletin issued by the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Users inject, swallow, smoke or snort it.