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There are some drugs out there that even people who have never so much as looked at an illegal substance would recognize by name – cocaine, heroin, fentanyl – but others manage to fly somewhat under the radar, despite posing a significant threat. One example of these is called U-47700. It might sound like the name of nuclear material or a World War II German submarine, but U-47700 is a powerful synthetic opioid with a potency 7.5 times higher than morphine. It was one of the cocktail of drugs, including fentanyl, responsible for the overdose death of the musician Prince. It can be snorted, swallowed or injected.

Also referred to as “U4,” “pink,” or “pinky,” it’s a white or light pink powder that is either sold in baggies or formed into pills to make it look like painkillers. In fact, it was originally intended to treat severe pain associated with cancer, surgery, or injury, but it ended up being classified as a “research chemical” after it failed to receive FDA approval and never got tested on humans. Instead, drug labs in China and elsewhere around the world were able to view the formula – because the patent and academic journals with instructions on how to produce it was publicly available – and began selling it.

This is unfortunately a common problem with research chemicals. Because they are technically legal, they often aren’t discovered by the DEA or other law enforcement. If they do become an illegal or controlled substance, manufacturers are able to slightly tweak the formula to avoid detection.

Because most U4 is made in China, the costs to consumers are low. According to an article by Rolling Stone, a survey of websites that offered U4 for sale showed prices starting at around $30 a gram, which could be a week’s supply for some less-tolerant users. Unfortunately, when you buy drugs from overseas you often have no idea what you’ll actually end up with. In the case of Prince’s death, investigators found pills that were incorrectly stamped as “Watson 385,” which is used to identify pills containing a mix of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. Similarly, police in Ohio seized 500 pills that initially appeared to be oxycodone, as they were marked with “A 215,” which is usually found on the prescription painkiller.

Like other opioids such as oxycodone or heroin, U4 causes feelings of euphoria and relaxation. The side effects are also similar to heroin and include numbness, sedation, cold and clammy skin, coma, and respiratory failure leading to death. The Drug Enforcement Administration added U-47700 to the list of Schedule I drugs in November 2016, following a rash of overdoses in Michigan, Indiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah (where two 13-year-old boys died after using the drug), among other places.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.



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