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Gray Death

Common or street names: gray death, grey death

What is gray death?

The product with the street name "Gray death" is reported to be an illicit opioid combination of powerful and dangerous drugs that have led to several fatal overdoses in the U.S. The designer, synthetic combo drug is said to be many more times potent than heroin. Overdoses and confiscation of the chemicals have been reported in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.1,2,3,4,5,6

What’s exactly in "gray death" can vary from batch to batch according to reports, which makes it even more dangerous. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is not a single drug, but typically contains several potent opioids, including whatever a drug dealer has on hand.1 It could contain heroin, fentanyl, and U-47700, all extremely potent narcotics. It can be a toxic mix of other potent opioids, such as carfentanil, or other illegal drugs. 6,8

How dangerous is gray death?

Gray death is extremely dangerous, even in a very small dose, if formulated with multiple potent opioids. A user typically will not know what is contained in the mix when they use it, and the product can be fatal.

The number of cases of abuse or overdoses of gray death that exist are also not known. As reported by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) crime labs, roughly 50 cases containing the synthetic opioid U-47700 and furanyl fentanyl have been identified, although many more probably exist. In addition, some of the confiscated drugs contained 3 or 4 extra opioids.4 U-47700 is now classified as a schedule I drug by the US Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA).2

Many reports suggest to avoid contact with bare skin. Because furanyl fentanyl and U-47700 are lethal at very low doses, law enforcement, health care providers, and the public have been warned to use extreme caution when handling these drugs. According to the Public Affairs Director at the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI), gray death powder can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and can be extremely toxic, even in the smallest quantities, which could rapidly lead to fatal respiratory depression.3,4,7,8

Law enforcement officials have been warned to use extreme caution and wear personal protective equipment when confiscating, handling or packaging any unknown synthetic opioid, including gray death. However, some reports state that even protective gloves may not be enough. An officer in Ohio recently accidentally overdosed on the gray death when he touched the drug during an arrest.7

Carfentanil, a large animal tranquilizer often used to anesthetize elephants, has been found in the product. If carfentanil is mixed in the product, it could add to the rapidly lethal effect. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.7,8

Related: Fentanyl (and Carfentanil) Abuse: Top 11 Facts About These Potent and Deadly Opioids

Even in their unadulterated, legal prescription form, opioid drugs are known to cause many deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose which can include prescription oral painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid.10

The extent of use

The extent of use of gray death is not fully known. The state of Georgia has reported at least 17 overdoses, at least 6 deaths from U-47700 and 12 deaths from furanyl fentanyl, plus over 50 reports of the drug in use.4,6

What does gray death look like?

Experts are still trying to determine the exact details of gray death. Gray death, as it’s name would imply, has a gray or ashen color and appears like concrete mixing powder, in chunks, or in rocks. According to a Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) report, the drugs are distributed in either powder or tablet form. But the identity of any illicit drug is always in question on the street; manufactured in foreign labs the identity, purity, and quantity of any substances are usually not known.2

How do you use gray death?

Gray death has been consumed by most routes typical of drug abusers:1

  • injection
  • smoking
  • snorting
  • consuming it orally

Effects 

The users goal is to gain the euphoric effects of opiates; however, the lethal, depressive effects on breathing probably take over quickly with this illegal drug. Effects from opiates can include:4 

  • shallow breathing
  • pinpoint pupils
  • nausea or vomiting
  • dizziness
  • lethargy
  • cold or clammy skin
  • loss of consciousness
  • heart failure

Can you reverse the effects of gray death?

Some reports have noted gray death could be resistant to naloxone (Narcan), although controlled clinical studies are not available. First responders should immediately call 911 or other emergency personnel.

  • If the drugs contained within the gray death are of opiate (narcotic) origin, naloxone could be an effective antidote; however, multiple doses of naloxone (Narcan) may be required.4 As one health expert physician has noted, reversal of the effects could take up to 5 to 10 naloxone doses, which most people do not have on hand.7
  • There has been a report of "naloxone resistance" with gray death.9 However, naloxone will not have an effect on other non-opioid drugs in the mixture such as amphetamines ("uppers"), benzodiazepines or barbiturates ("downers"), cocaine, or other non-opiates.

See Also

Sources

  1. Gulf Coast HIDTA and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Issue Synthetic Opioids Alert. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). May 2017. Accessed Feb 7, 2020 at https://archives.drugabuse.gov/emerging-trends/gulf-coast-hidta-georgia-bureau-investigation-issue-synthetic-opioids-alert
  2. DEA Schedules Deadly Synthetic Drug U-47700. US Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA). Accessed Feb. 7, 2020 at https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2016/11/10/dea-schedules-deadly-synthetic-drug-u-47700
  3. Gray Death: The New Killer on the Street. DrugAbuse.com. Accessed Jan 30, 2020 at https://drugabuse.com/heroin/gray-death-crisis/
  4. State of Georgia. Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). GBI Issues Synthetic Opioids Alert. May 4, 2017. Accessed Jan 30, 2020 at https://gbi.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-05-04/gbi-issues-synthetic-opioids-alert
  5. Emerging Trend Bulletin: Potent new opioid/opiate compound known as “Grey Death”. Gulf Coast HIDTA Investigative Support Network. Accessed Feb. 7, 2020 at https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3700907/Grey-Death-GCHIDTA-0517.pdf
  6. 'Grey death': The powerful street drug that's puzzling authorities. CNN. May 13, 2017. Accessed Jan 30, 2020 at https://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/12/health/grey-death-opioid-drug/
  7. Gray death: It's 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. USA Today. Accessed Jan. 31, 2020 at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/05/25/gray-death-its-10-000-times-more-powerful-than-morphine/344371001/
  8. A dangerous mix of opioids called ‘gray death’ is causing overdoses in parts of the US. Science. Business Insider. May 8, 2017. Accessed Jan 30, 2020 at http://www.businessinsider.com/gray-death-opioids-overdoses/?r=AU&IR=T
  9. Narcan resistant drug cause for concern for officers, drug agents. WBTW News 13. July 20, 2017. Accessed Jan 30, 2020 at https://www.wbtw.com/news/narcan-resistant-drug-cause-for-concern-for-officers-drug-agents/868588926
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Opioid Overdose. Updated September 5, 2017. Accessed Jan 30, 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.