“Gray death,” or “grey death,” are street names given to a drug that began causing problems in certain regions in the U.S. between 2016-2017. It often contains a blend of opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, and Pink (U-47700), among others. Potencies and the concentration of ingredients tend to vary between doses, and the product is often so powerful that use can lead to rapid death by overdose.
The name of the drug describes its color and also its incredibly lethal nature. Indeed, this drug’s extremely high potency can cause instant death—even in small doses or minimal exposure, such as handling. Thus far, this new drug has been found in several states in the eastern part of the nation, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
What Exactly Is In Gray Death?
Gray death can vary in textures, and it is either powdered or rock-like in appearance. Researchers who have studied samples of this drug cannot fully explain its strange, characteristic gray color. Although there are no standardized ingredients used in the production of gray death, several opioids are likely to be included in any given sample, such as the following:
Most batches of gray death will likely contain at least some amount of heroin, which is a semi-synthetic opioid derived from the opium alkaloid morphine that induces a powerful and rapid euphoric high, followed by long periods of sleepiness. An overdose of heroin can cause severe complications, including a potentially life-threatening overdose.
Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid used for legitimate medical purposes in clinical environments for general anesthesia and at home for severe pain. Prescription use is usually in the form of a transdermal patch or lozenge, which are intended to deliver the drug into the system in a controlled manner. The effects of fentanyl are similar to heroin but may be much more intense, which is why it has contributed so much to the opioid overdose epidemic.
Fentanyl is approximately 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Experts believe that an amount as small as 0.25 mg can lead to death when ingested and left untreated. Some fentanyl is diverted from legitimate prescriptions, but according to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), the vast majority is obtained through international drug markets from clandestine labs in China or Mexico.
U-47700 is another synthetic drug not currently approved for use, although it can be obtained on the Internet marketed as a “research chemical.” The heroin-like effects of this substance have made it an increasingly popular target of abuse, and is believed to be related to an unknown number of deadly overdoses.
Carfentanil is an incredibly potent synthetic opioid used as a sedative or tranquilizer by veterinarians on large animals, such as elephants. It is estimated to be 100 times more potent than fentanyl and about 10,000 times stronger than morphine. Exposure to any amount of this substance without the use of protective gear is likely to result in death.
Why Is Gray Death Increasing in Popularity?
Gray death’s increasing prevalence is primarily due to the fact that it is powerful and relatively inexpensive, both for potential buyers to purchase and drug manufacturers to produce. It can be obtained on the black market for as little as $10, and drug makers can create it using any ingredients they choose and whatever they have available at that time.
Another reason for the sudden deluge of synthetic drugs such as gray death into the country is that foreign drug labs will quickly alter their formulas and ingredients in an effort to circumvent U.S. drug laws. These ever-changing analogs tend to increase in potency. With manufacturers continually changing their components, users can never be certain of what they’re getting and ingesting.
Even with the well-known risks, some people with an addiction to opioids may be tempted by gray death’s ability to induce an extremely intense high, which is said to be unlike any most other drugs available. However, ingesting a drug this powerful and unpredictable may be akin to playing Russian Roulette.
Who Abuses Gray Death?
Most users of gray death are individuals who are addicted to opioids, particularly those that are very potent. These persons may intend to ingest straight heroin but unintentionally consume gray death. Heroin use has become much riskier in the last few years, and one primary reason is that so many adulterants and other drugs are being mixed into it.
Unfortunately, it is not only opioid abusers who can be adversely affected by gray death and powerful synthetic drugs. Those who treat victims of life-threatening overdoses can become victims themselves. First responders, such as law enforcement and emergency medical technicians, are at a high risk of being exposed to a potentially lethal amount.
Moreover, synthetic opioids can be absorbed through the skin or ingested without the person’s awareness. There have been reports of police officers and others suffering from an overdose after having minimal contact with these drugs.
Just How Deadly Is It?
The presence of fentanyl, carfentanil, and U-47700 places the gray death drug currently among the more lethal drugs available on the black market. Because a minuscule dose that might not be seen with the naked eye can result in death, a person trying to take heroin as usual can experience an overdose within minutes. As it is, thousands of people in the U.S. are killed each year due to overdoses related to heroin, fentanyl, other synthetic opioids, and prescription painkillers.
In the last few years, overdoses and corresponding fatalities related to gray death have been steadily increasing. Unfortunately, exact statistics are hard to determine, because toxicology tests and coroner reports are not always able to identify it as a distinct substance that has been ingested. Moreover, if a person’s death is found to be related to opioids, in the absence of physical evidence, the specific drugs present may not be reported.
Fortunately, the same techniques used to address and reverse a heroin overdose can be used to treat a gray death overdose, but the process may be more difficult. A victim overdosing on gray death might require multiple doses of naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and some individuals may need as many as ten doses to fully recover. When this occurs, it can be a massive problem because first responders or friends/family members may not have that amount immediately available.
If you suspect that a person is overdosing or getting too high, it is critical you do not leave them alone. If the victim is still conscious, try to keep him or her awake and in an upright position, if possible, and monitor their breathing rate. If they are lying down, put pillows around him or her to keep them on their side to help prevent them from choking on their own vomit.
The following are signs of an overdose:
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow, labored or stopped breathing
- Profound respiratory depression
If a person high on opioids is producing unfamiliar sounds while resting, it is worth trying to rouse him or her. Many people around “sleeping” opioid addicts think the person is snoring when they are fatally overdosing.
These situations are often missed opportunities to intervene as early as possible to save a life. If you suspect that someone you know is suffering from an overdose related to any drug or alcohol, please call 911 immediately and stand by for instructions while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.
Getting Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Opioid abuse and addiction can be devastating and potentially life-threatening conditions that require immediate professional help. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer detox services as well as comprehensive treatment plans in both partial hospitalization and residential formats. Our programs include evidence-based services, such as psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more.
Our highly-trained staff provides those we treat with the tools and support they need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, end their suffering, and sustain long-term sobriety. Contact us as soon as possible and find out how we can help!