100 Illinois deaths from U-47700? Nope. But it is still a danger

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids/BND

Recently there was a death near Marion linked to U-47700, a synthetic opioid eight times stronger than heroin and available online from a Chinese company. It triggered a story out of Southern Illinois reporting 100 deaths in Illinois from U-47700.

The news of those deaths was greatly exaggerated.

The number appeared suspicious and, sure enough, the prosecutor in Marion said he was misquoted. He said he was citing a national number, not a state figure, and even that number may be high.

In November, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said nationwide there were 46 confirmed deaths and 88 forensic lab reports linked to the drug, also known as Pink, U or U4. Two 13-year-olds in Park City, Utah, died from it and brought national attention to the drug.

None of which makes U-47700 any less scary. It took 15 seconds online to find a vendor selling it at $40 a gram. Imagine how much faster a net-savvy teen could find it.

The drug was developed in the 1970s by Upjohn to be a less-addictive painkiller. But they missed the goal and lab rats couldn’t get enough of it. It was abandoned. However, the scientific literature published about it was the source for Chinese labs to start making it. All that medical research being shared to relieve human suffering became the source of much human suffering as the labs churn out new synthetic drugs and law enforcement tries to keep up.

Illinois state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, in late January introduced a bill to add U-47700 to Illinois’ list of controlled substances.

The bigger threat in Illinois at present seems to be Flakka, a cocaine or bath salt-like drug that looks like white aquarium gravel and easily can cause an overdose because slight variations take the user from high to dead. It, too, can be purchased online from China.

And there’s always the old reliable, heroin, now available in pill form from your corner dealer. Or that economy-sized bottle of Oxy prescribed for Granny’s hip replacement.

Out of 47,055 overdose deaths nationally in 2014, opioids were responsible for 28,647 of them. The opioid death rate increased 200 percent from 2000 to 2014 and the trend likely increased during the past two years.

Many are resigned to just reviving dedicated addicts and hoping they live long enough to get clean. But catching them before they start might be simpler, maybe just a matter of checking your kid’s browser history for odd Chinese retailers or having ongoing conversations with them.

It would be nice to keep the U-47700 death statistic from becoming real.