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Deadly chemicals in Ga. counterfeit pill outbreak identified

Authorities said the drugs are "extremely scary" and are made solely for the illicit market


By Jon Gosa
Albany Herald

ATLANTA  — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Lab announced late Tuesday that it had identified chemicals in counterfeit pills related to the recent rash of reported overdoses in the central Georgia area.

According to GBI Public Affairs Director Nelly Miles, the rapid appearance of new psychoactive substances, like those uncovered during the investigation, that are not regulated by international or national drug laws presents a serious and dangerous risk to public health.

“Analysis confirmed that the pills contain a mixture of two synthetic opioids, cyclopropyl fentanyl and U-47700,” Miles said. “These drugs are extremely scary. There is no legitimate preparation for the fentanyl analogue. The only use for these drugs are for the illicit market. There are chemists, clandestine chemists overseas, specifically preparing these drugs so that they can be sold on the street and so they can get around drug laws. In a lot of states, this new drug, cyclopropyl fentanyl, is not even outlawed, because, quite frankly, it’s brand new.”

Cyclopropyl fentanyl is a fentanyl analogue that is chemically similar to fentanyl. Fentanyl, and its analogues, are synthetic opioids that have been mainstays for the treatment of severe to moderate pain for many years, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

However, the analogue of fentanyl, cyclopropyl fentanyl, is relatively new, and it is unknown how the human body will react to this drug since it is not intended for human or veterinary use.

According to Miles, cyclopropyl fentanyl has not previously been seen in Georgia and is primarily used for research and forensic purposes.

The GBI official went on to explain that, in the past, legislation regulating newly discovered dangerous or addictive substances, such as cyclopropyl fentanyl, would many times come only after a problem, outbreak of use or epidemic occurred. But now, with the “analogue statute,” the basic structure of a drug can be outlawed, which also outlaws derivatives of that drug.

“Traditionally, when we would get a new drug, we had to go through the legislative process, but years ago, when we were dealing with the synthetic marijuana issue, we started working with legislators to show them that there may be some other ways, without listing them specifically, to get ahead of the problem,” Miles said.

“We came up with an analogue statute that would cover, essentially, the backbone of the drug and not necessarily the specifics. So if you have the core structure in there, that means that even if a new drug comes along, or it was tweaked a little bit, it would still be covered. That would take care of hundreds of variations of these types of drugs.”

Legislation was introduced this year to outlaw both cyclopropyl fentanyl and U-47700 in Georgia. The law banning the substances went into effect after passage by the Georgia General Assembly and the governor’s signature on April 17.

According to Miles, cyclopropyl fentanyl can only be found within the illicit drug market.

“This particular drug, cyclopropyl fentanyl, it is only seen on the streets and the illicit market,” she said. “Right now, to our knowledge from talking to other crime labs, there are maybe two other states that are seeing it. So it is that brand-new, and what we have seen over the years is that these chemists overseas watch the drug laws so that they can determine what they can make next to stay ahead of the law. Unfortunately, the drugs have since become far more potent over the years and far more deadly.”

The other substance found in the counterfeit pills, according to Miles, U-47700, is also a synthetic opioid that is 7.5 times stronger than morphine.

“Oftentimes, we are seeing combinations of drugs,” she said. “What we find with drugs like U-47700 is that they are often found mixed with other drugs like heroin and fentanyl-type drugs. It is very common for them to take all of these drugs, crush it into a powder, mix it together and say, ‘Here this is the new thing that I am selling.’”

Both drugs, cyclopropyl fentanyl and U-4770, are considered highly dangerous and should not be handled, Miles said. They can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and are extremely toxic in even the smallest of quantities.

“Unfortunately, average people, who have been popping pills forever, are not realizing that this is the market now,” she said. “And it is extremely scary that they are marketing these poisons to your common heroin user.”

According to Miles, many of the users/abusers of these types of dangerous drugs are either heroin users or people who are seeking Oxycontin, a powerful and addictive prescription pain medication.

“What we are finding is that in a lot of situations people are looking for heroin or they are looking for oxy (Oxycontin), the prescription pill,” the GBI official said. “In the middle Georgia outbreak, when someone is selling you something that looks like percocet and the embossing and the logo look exactly like a percocet pill, your first thought is probably not that this has a brand new fentanyl that we’ve never seen before and a little heroin and a little u-47700 mixed in it. That’s not what these people are ordering. They are just looking for a pill that they can’t get from the doctor, but they can get it from a drug dealer.

“Those that are dealing, we are typically finding that they’re coming in through your traditional forces. So the Mexican cartels are playing a heavy role, and there is a huge market online on the dark web. We know it is there, and it really causes a huge issue because it is so widespread.”

According to Miles, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Poison Center, hospitals, local, state and federal partners will continue to work jointly on this investigation.

Copyright 2017 Albany Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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