‘Gray death’: Drug mix blamed for dozens of deaths, ‘like playing Russian roulette’

by WorldTribune Staff, May 5, 2017

The latest in the deadly drug mixing trend has been cited in dozens of overdose deaths in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio.

Described as looking like a concrete mix, “Gray death” is a mixture of heroin, potent painkillers and elephant tranquilizers that are cut together to create a lethal combination, authorities say.

Gray death

“You don’t know what you’re getting with these things,” Richie Webber, head of the organization Fight for Recovery, told The Associated Press in a May 4 report. “Every time you shoot up you’re literally playing Russian roulette with your life.”

Officials in Georgia said they’ve had 50 overdose cases involving gray death over the past three months while coroners in Ohio report a steady increase in gray death overdose cases since the year began, the report said.

“Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis,” said Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Gray death combinations will vary, but include heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and a synthetic opioid called U-47700. Fentanyl is an opiate-based painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Carfentanil is roughly 10,000 times stronger than morphine and used for tranquilizing elephants. U-47700 is less common, but listed as one of the most dangerous substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Authorities said that gray death users often do not know what they are buying when they are sold the mixture. Authorities also note powders like carfentanil can be absorbed through the skin, posing deadly risks to anyone in the presence of the substance.

Police are now cautioned to avoid field-testing the substance due to the risk of exposure to carfentanil or fentanyl.

Fatal overdoses from heroin quadrupled over the last five years nationally, according to data released by the National Center for Health Statistics earlier this year. They say the massive increase in heroin and general opioid abuse in the U.S. since 2010 is driven by lower drug prices and ingredients with higher potency, like fentanyl.

Fentanyl is also being found cut into cocaine supplies in a number of states including Rhode Island. The development is alarming for law enforcement in the region, who note that unlike heroin, cocaine is more widely used as a social drug.

Officials fear users are largely unaware of fentanyl being cut up with cocaine and say it will have deadly consequences. Less than half a teaspoon of pure fentanyl is enough to kill 10 people.