“Grey Death” Joins the Growing List of Lethal Street Drugs

A Deadly Combination of Fentanyl, Carfentanil and Heroin

Grey death, the latest in an ever-evolving landscape of dangerous street drugs, is being blamed for several fatal overdoses in Georgia. Named for its resemblance to concrete mixing powder, grey death combines several powerful opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and a synthetic opioid called U-47700 (also known as “pink”). Since the beginning of the year, about 50 batches of grey death have been seized in Georgia, and officials in Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania are reporting the appearance of grey death in their communities as well.

Because opioids can be absorbed through the skin, simply touching such powders can be fatal. Last week, an Ohio police officer accidentally overdosed after searching a suspect’s vehicle. Per protocol, the officer had worn gloves and a mask during the search. But when he returned to the station, the officer brushed some powder, thought to have been fentanyl, off his shirt. He later collapsed, requiring four doses of Narcan to fully counteract the opioid overdose.

The job of law enforcement officials is only made more difficult by the speed with which new drugs appear on the street. For example, the DEA classified U-47700 as a Schedule I (i.e., illegal) drug last November, after dozens of deaths were attributed to the drug. Shortly after, Georgia officials noticed new fentanyl-like drugs appearing on the streets. By changing the molecule slightly, foreign chemists are able to work around US laws and export their substances into the United States faster than federal and state governments can react. And because these novel substances are generally manufactured overseas, their purity and concentration are unknown, creating what the DEA refers to as a “Russian Roulette scenario” for anyone who comes in contact with them.

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