Just when we thought the opioid crisis couldn't get any worse, latest reports reveal a new kind of opioid drug that's so powerful and dangerous, it makes heroin seem almost irrelevant.
Aptly known in the streets as "gray death," the ominous opioid mix closely resembles concrete and usually comes in a fine powder or gravel-like form. It's so potent that anyone can be exposed to its detrimental effects just by merely touching it.
What Is Gray Death?
"Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis," Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said of the potentially lethal opioid cocktail.
Kilcrease said she saw at least six different opiates in one of the gray death samples she tested, including the following:
• Heroin - an opioid drug made from morphine
• Fentanyl - an opioid drug 50 times stronger than heroin
• U-47700 - a synthetic opioid, otherwise known as Pink or U4, listed under the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's most dangerous drugs and banned since 2016
• Carfentanil - a tiger and elephant tranquilizer, 100 times stronger than heroin
Gray death contains perhaps the deadliest combo of illicit drugs at strong concentrations unknown to users. What's alarming is that there is a strong demand for gray death because the drug is reportedly cheaper than oxycodone.
"You can buy one of these cocktails for $10-$20 on the street and lose your life in a few seconds," Russ Baer of the DEA told NBC News.
Opioid Concoctions Smuggled Into The United States
As of the latest reports, gray death has not yet reached major parts of the country, although it's been identified in cases of opioid overdose in the Gulf Coast and several states including Ohio, Alabama and Georgia.
"We are more routinely seeing deadly cocktails of heroin, fentanyl, various fentanyl-class substances, along with combinations of other controlled substances of varying potencies including cocaine, methamphetamine, and THC," Baer said.
Drug dealers are creating more complicated opioid concoctions, which makes it hard for authorities to classify the drugs and know exactly what they're dealing with.
Gray death and other emerging drug cocktails are produced in the United States from opioids that are mailed in from China or smuggled into the country from neighboring Mexico.
The Worsening Opioid Epidemic In The Country
The enduring battle against the opioid epidemic continues to this day.
Based on the data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids played a pivotal role in at least 33,091 deaths in 2015, with opioid overdoses multiplying up to four times since 1999.
In 2015, the CDC listed the top five states with the highest cases of deaths caused by drug overdose: West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, and Rhode Island.