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The Dangers of the Greatly Underreported U-­47700

Drug users are seeking out newer—and more dangerous—ways to get high.

This is increasingly so, as drug testing becomes more commonplace in rehabilitation centers and the work place.

Starting around 2006, synthetic cannabinoids became popular among marijuana users looking for a legal alternative. These are typically packaged as “spice” and falsely marketed as “legal weed.” While their packaging may say “Not Intended for Human Consumption” or “For Research Purposes Only”, this is essentially a smoke screen meant to deflect accountability from the companies distributing these substances.

As the dangers of these products quickly revealed themselves, lawmakers were fast to ban the formulas. Unfortunately, international manufacturers swiftly changed the chemical formulas to get their product back on the shelves.

While synthetic cannabinoids are now widely banned, designer drugs such as dangerous synthetic opioids are quickly taking their place as a popular drug of choice. As more and more designer drugs appear on the black market, doctors and lawmakers are scrambling to catch up to this growing trend. Synthetic opioid abuse has been linked to deaths in Texas, Florida and Kansas.

Discovering the U-­47700 Problem

Originally produced as a research chemical, U-­47700 is the lab name assigned to a synthetic opioid created by the Upjohn Company. While these chemicals have some legitimate functions, they can also produce the same euphoric sensations as conventional opiates when abused.

Worse, these chemicals can cause some dangerous side effects, including:

  • analgesia
  • itchy skin
  • nausea
  • potentially fatal respiratory depression

As is too often the case with drug abuse, it took tragedy to enable progress. It all began with the hospitalization of two patients, both suffering from drug overdoses. The male patient was carrying a baggie labeled “U-­47700.”

Due to the clinical care received, these patients survived the effects of the drug overdoses. However, these overdoses highlight a growing concern. Besides the label on the baggie, the medical community had no viable way to test for this drug in the patients’ systems.

How Gulfstream Found a Solution

Following the overdose, Gulfstream Diagnostics was contacted by Dr. Kleinschmidt, a nationally renowned toxicologist and professor of emergency medicine with UT southwestern who had been working in the same ER that had admitted the overdose patients. Dr. Kleinschmidt had one simple question, “Can we test for U-­47700?”

As we always strive to stay at the forefront of addiction treatment and abuse, we acted quickly to find a clinically acceptable sample, calibrate our equipment, and determine an accurate testing method.

In just over two weeks, Gulfstream Diagnostics was able to successfully test for and identify U­47700.

The First Step Towards a Larger Solution

Although it lacks news coverage and a catchy street name, U-­47700 represents a growing synthetic opioid problem that needs to be addressed. Because drugs like U-­47700 were developed for scientific use, and are often difficult to detect, they were previously difficult to classify and legally restrict.

Progress towards legally restricting U-­47700 is being made. As of May 16, 2016 the DEA scheduled AH-­7921, a similar synthetic opioid, as a schedule 1 drug. In turn, Karen Tannert with the Texas Department of State Health Services has indicated they are treating U-­47700 as a schedule 1 drug under Title 21 United States Code Controlled Substance Act Part B.

This makes it much easier to control the abuse and distribution of this and other synthetic opioids. Through our commitment to high-­quality, accurate toxicology testing will continue to help end America’s growing opioid crisis.

Two cases of intoxication with new synthetic opioid, U-47700