What are synthetic opioids and why are people using them?

How is doctors’ reluctance to prescribe painkillers leading to more synthetic drug use? What opioids are being created in the labs and how are people using them? We explain here.

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Reasons People Use Synthetic Drugs

Americans addicted to opiates are continually searching for new alternatives to prescription painkillers. For the past decade, prescription drugs such as:

…have flooded the market. But as a result of the negative publicity surrounding the opiate epidemic and new opioid prescribing guidelines published by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), physicians are more reluctant to prescribe controlled substances for chronic pain.

What new alternatives to Rx painkillers are people turning to? Drug dealers are happy to come up and provide options and produce deadly combinations of synthetic alternatives readily available for consumers. The drugs produced are cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription painkillers and can be purchased on the street or via the internet.

But what are the qualities and dangers of this new generation of opioids? What do they do and what are their risks? More on the illegal synthetic drug market in the U.S. here, with a section for your questions at the end.

What synthetic drug is currently flooding the illegal drug market?

The DEA has the authority to emergency schedule a drug when it poses an imminent danger to the public. And a new drug is doing just that. It is called U-47700.

DEA received reports of at least 46 confirmed fatalities associated with U-47700, 31 of those fatalities occurred in New York and 10 in North Carolina. This synthetic opioid is known on the street as “Pink” or “Pinky” due to its color. It is the latest synthetic drug making headlines for the devastation it’s causing relative to the opiate and synthetic drug crisis in America.

To oppose the threat, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently enacted emergency scheduling for U-47700, the newest synthetic opioid being used as an alternative to prescription painkillers. Effective November 14, 2016, U-47700 is now controlled by the DEA and it is a Federal crime to purchase, sell or possess U-47700.

Q: What is U-47700?
A: U-47700, also known on the street as “U4” is a lab created synthetic opioid developed in the 1970s by a team of chemists at Upjohn Pharmaceuticals.

Although never approved for medical use in the U.S., overseas chemists are manufacturing the product and selling it to addicts as a substitute for prescription painkillers. It is typically sold as a pink-colored powder and is reported to be seven and one-half times more potent than morphine. It is also manufactured and distributed as a blue pill to mimic a pharmaceutical oxycodone pill.

Q: Why are addicts switching to synthetic drugs over prescription painkillers?
A: Addicts are purchasing these dangerous man-made synthetic drugs in hopes of finding an affordable alternative to prescription pain killers.

The move to synthetic opioids driven by political will

Over the past couple of years, there has been a steady decline in the number of prescriptions written for controlled painkillers in the U.S. The U.S. Surgeon General is calling for changes in the ways that doctor prescribe pain medications. Further, in 2017, the DEA is reducing the amount of controlled opioid medications produced and manufactured in the U.S. by 25 percent.

This trend in reducing the amount of available prescription opioids is likely to continue and will make it much more difficult for addicts to obtain prescription painkillers. However, these actions are causing those addicted to prescription painkillers to turn to alternatives like heroin or other man-made synthetic versions of opioids.

A new breed of drug: ever-evolving

The DEA and other state and local law enforcement agencies are faced with an on-going battle of identifying new synthetic drugs that are suddenly appearing in our communities. It seems when one synthetic substance is outlawed, another version appears with a different chemical make-up and name. The common denominator in all of these synthetic drugs is they are deadly and much more potent than street heroin or pharmaceutical grade oxycodone.

Addicted to pain pills?

Keep this in mind: The analogy of consuming synthetic drugs is like playing Russian roulette, only this version of Russian roulette uses a gun with no empty chambers.

Addicts should seek medical advice and treatment for addiction rather than consuming a dangerous chemical alternative to painkillers. Additionally, there are ways you can manage your chronic pain without using prescription pain medications or turning to synthetics. Nonopioid and adjuvant analgesics include a range of heterogenous drugs that differ in their chemical composition and their mechanistical properties. They can be prescribed for mild to moderate pain, as coanalgesics for severe pain along with opioid meds, or to target specific pain-generating mechanisms.

If you feel that you need help coping with your opioid seeking behavior or have a hard time managing addiction and pain relief at the same time, you should consider talking with a doctor or entering a treatment program that can help you cope with both successfully. You can also reach out here. Please let us know if we can help you by writing to us in the comment section below. We do our best to respond to all legitimate queries with a personal and prompt response.

About the Author: If you like to learn more about how to prevent the diversion of pharmaceuticals or would like to receive training from retired DEA Special Agent and drug diversion expert W. Rivera, please visit the website www.trainingidea.com or Warren Rivera’s LinkedIn profile.
Reference Sources: DEA: DEA Reduces Amount of Opioid Controlled Substances to be Manufactured in 2017
DEA: DEA Schedules Deadly Synthetic Drug U-47700
RollingStone: U-47700: Everything You Need to Know About Deadly New Drug
About the author
Warren Rivera is a retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Rivera is an experienced public speaker, trainer and an expert in the diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances. Mr. Rivera currently owns Training Idea, LLC, a private consulting firm that provides training on DEA matters to the healthcare industry, law enforcement and the community.
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