Gray Death. What You Need to Know.

What is gray death?

Gray death is an illicit opioid combination of powerful and dangerous drugs that have led to several fatal overdoses in the U.S. in 2017. The designer, synthetic drug is said to be many more times potent than heroin. Overdoses have been reported in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

What’s exactly in gray death can vary from batch to batch, which makes it even more dangerous. It could contain heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil – three extremely potent narcotics – or all three. It can be a toxic mix of other narcotics or illegal drugs, too:

  • heroin
  • fentanyl 
  • carfentanil
  • U-47700 (pink)
  • possibly other opioids or unidentified drugs or toxins

How dangerous is gray death?

Gray death is extremely dangerous, even in a very small dose. A user typically will not know what is contained in the mix when they use it, and the product is often 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.

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 should use extreme caution when handling these drugs. Gray death powder can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and can be extremely toxic, even in the smallest quantities, and rapidly lead to fatal respiratory depression.

Law enforcement officials have been warned to use extreme caution and wear personal protective equipment when confiscating, handling or packaging any 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.

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.

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.

The extent of use

The extent of use of gray death is not fully known, as it first appeared on the streets only in 2017. 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.

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 the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, 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.

How do you use gray death?

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

  • 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 can include:

  • 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). First responders should immediately call 911 or other emergency personnel.

  • If the drugs contained within the gray death are of opiate origin, naloxone may be an effective antidote; however, multiple doses of naloxone (Narcan) will probably be required. 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.
  • Naloxone will not have an effect on other drugs in the mixture, such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or other non-opiate drugs.

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