In July 2016, reports came out of a new drug that was found in the body of music legend Prince, who died on April this year. The investigations disclosed that while it was an overdose of the drug fentanyl that caused his death, there was a cocktail of drugs in his system that may have contributed to the fatality.
The drug cocktail included a new designer drug called U-47700. The substance took longer to be detected as it required more sophisticated laboratory equipment and testing techniques.
In other news reports, concern has been expressed over the drug U-47700, which has been the cause of about 17 U-47700 overdose cases in at least 10 states in the country since the first documented incident in Knoxville, Tennessee in June 2015.
Furthermore, it has also contributed to about 50 deaths nationwide, prompting law enforcement officers to seek an immediate ban on the substance. As of June 2016, the states of Kansas, Wyoming, Ohio, and Georgia have taken action to have U-47700 banned.
What is U-47700?
U-47700 is an opioid analgesic drug that was developed by a pharmaceutical manufacturer called Upjohn in the mid-1970s. It was derived from an earlier opioid AH-7921. It is known to have 7.5 times more potency than morphine. Some of its popular street names include Pink or Pinky.
According to Barry Logan, head of Pennsylvania-based NMS Labs forensic toxicology, U-4770 is a product of several experiments and was developed by the pharmaceutical as their analysts were looking for a synthetic alternative to morphine. In particular, the scientists were studying the molecular activity of a number of chemical compounds that affect the opioid receptors in the brain. It was not originally intended for human consumption but for research purposes only.
Currently, the drug is produced by companies in China and is smuggled into the U.S., where it is being sold over the internet. Most buyers may not even be aware of the compounds of U-4770 or its dangers.
How Does U-47700 Work?
U-47700 works by binding to and activating the µ-opioid receptor. Like other opioids, it mimics the endogenous endorphins which are found in the body. The effect is the production of euphoria, pleasure, general excitement, sleepiness, and pain relief. It has been said that the effects produced by U-47700 are similar to those elicited by the opioid oxycodone.
U-47700 also works as an agonist for the kappa-opioid receptor system. As a result, it has become the lead compound of some kappa-opioid receptor ligands including U-50488 and U-69,593 which also have similar structures.
Side Effects of U-47700
The physical side effects produced by the drug includes pain relief, physical euphoria that may be less intense than morphine, feelings of warmth and physical comfort, itchiness as a result of the strong histamine actions of the body, respiratory depression that tends to be stronger in comparison to that produced by other opioids such as heroin and morphine, semi-consciousness or unconsciousness, sedation, cough suppression, constipation, urinary retention, pupil constriction, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, flushed skin, and decreased libido.
The drug also affects cognition and behavior. Some of the effects include overwhelming feelings of emotional bliss and happiness, suppression of anxiety, impaired judgment, confusion, and compulsive redosing or addiction.
U-47700 also produces after effects that occur after the peak has passed or during the “comedown” or “crash.” These effects include cognitive fatigue, thought deceleration, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
Potential for Toxicity and Long-Term Damage
Because of its potency, it can produce long-term effects that include diminished libido and memory loss.
It has the potential to produce lethal effects when used in conjunction with depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines.
In addition, the nasal administration (snorting) of the drug’s crystals can cause damage to the mucous membranes. If vaporized, however, it can seriously harm the lungs.
Potential for Tolerance and Addiction
Chronic use of U-47700 can lead to dependence and addiction. As with other opioids, it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and can cause psychological dependence among users. When tolerance sets in, users will have to keep increasing the dose consumed. This puts them at a higher risk of fatal overdose.
Users who develop an addiction to the substance will develop compulsive patterns and will keep seeking ways to use the drug despite knowledge of its ill-effects. When the use is stopped abruptly, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Dangerous Drug Interactions
The use of U-47700 in conjunction with other drugs or substances can produce serious and life-threatening effects. Some of the drugs that are known to be potentially dangerous when combined with U-47700 are the following:
When U-47700 is used with depressants, there is an increased risk of developing fatal respiratory depression, muscle relaxation, sedation, loss of consciousness, and amnesia.
The combination of U-47700 and any form of dissociatives can induce vomiting during unconsciousness. This episode can trigger suffocation and death.
Generally, stimulants and depressants are dangerous combinations. When U-47700 is used in conjunction with any stimulant, there is an increased risk of excessive intoxication. Stimulants reduce the sedative effect of U-47700. However, when the effects of the stimulant wear off, the effects of U-47700 are considerably increased. This is potentially dangerous.
U-47700 Similarity to Heroin
According to the World Drug Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, addiction to U-47700 and other synthetic opioids in the U.S. is increasing even as these are used to replace heroin. These may be due to the availability and accessibility of U-47700 in the country.
Because U-47700 is available in both powder and granular form, it is relatively easier to use and abuse compared to other prescription opioids. This is because the latter are formulated to prevent abuse and are difficult to inject or snort. Thus, U-47700 is fast becoming a drug of choice among opioid addicts.
Some evidence suggests that the drug also induces a euphoric high that is similar to heroin although the effects last for a shorter period. This may be one of the reasons why it is also becoming an alternative drug among heroin users.
U-47700 now represents a part of the growing crisis of opioid addiction in the country. As with most synthetic drugs, law enforcers and lawmakers are struggling to cope with the developments of the drug trade in the market and are trying to pass immediate measures to classify and ban the substance.