More US states move to ban unlicensed opioid drug

Rhode Island and New York are the latest US states to consider a ban on the sale of a dangerous synthetic opioid that has turned up in fake oxycodone pills.

Rhode Island lawmaker and Warwick Democratic Rep. Joseph McNamara plans to file a bill to ban the drug, called U-47700, which will be considered when the state's General Assembly reconvenes in January. Meanwhile New York Senator Tim Kennedy has also called for a state-wide ban.

In March, police inOhio, seized 500 pills that visually appeared to be oxycodone. The pills were blue and had 'A 215' markings, consistent with Actavis (now Allergan) generic 30mg oxycodone pills, but laboratory analysis indicated that the pills did not contain oxycodone, but were instead made using U-47700.

Because of its newness, U-47700 can be legally purchased online, and costs on average about $30 a gram. Reports suggest the drug was included in the painkiller cocktail that killed Prince and there are increasing reports that the drug is being combined with counterfeit fentanyl.

If the bans go through, Rhode Island and New York will join four other US states – Florida, Ohio, Wyoming and Georgia – which have also recently implemented emergency bans on the drug.

"Most states are just starting to hear about [this drug] now. Since most of the transactions are done online, law enforcement officials don't know about it until they hear about an overdose death," said Rep. McNamara. "It looks like U-47700 may be even more dangerous than the other synthetic drugs we've seen. We have to be extra diligent in updating the law and keeping the public safe."

Also known on the street as "pink", U-47700, which is around eight times more potent than heroin, has only recently made its way onto the streets but has already resulted in at least 15 deaths since last year, the US Drug Enforcement Administration says. It could, however, be connected to as many as 80 deaths in the past nine months.

The agency plans to place the drug on its list of the most dangerous banned substances, alongside heroin and MDMA, amid concerns that more fatalities will occur due to easy online access to the cheap drug. It states that the drug poses an imminent threat to public safety.

U-47700 was invented by pharma company Upjohn in 1978 as a synthetic alternative treatment to morphine and is similar to the stronger opioid painkiller fentanyl. It was never tested on humans and was instead designated a research chemical.

However, details of the drug's formula are available from old medical journals online, which has lead to its production, with most websites selling the drug originating from China.

The drug is said to have analgesic properties and produce the feelings of euphoria and relaxation alongside the adverse side effects of itching, respiratory depression, nerve damage and death.

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