With the opioid epidemic that is currently ravaging the United States, most Americans are familiar with the dangers of heroin and prescription painkillers. However, these drugs are only a portion of the opioid problem. New, synthetic opioids are creating major problems for people who abuse opioids as public health officials and U.S. regulatory bodies scramble to keep up. The latest of these is known as U-47700, or Pink, which has contributed to opioid-related overdose deaths in at least 47 people over the past two years. Addressing the problems with Pink represents one more wave of the fight against opioid abuse.

What Is U-47700 or Pink?

In the 1970s, medical researchers tinkered in laboratories to create new opioid compounds that could serve as powerful painkillers in a medical setting. Many of these were patented but never used in clinical practice. One such molecule, called U-47700, has now gained notoriety for contributing to a wave of opioid overdose deaths. Laboratories in China have recreated the compound based on the publicly available chemical formula. Because U-47700 is much more powerful than heroin, it can lead to serious — and even deadly — side effects.

Like other opioids, U-47700 can pass through the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain. Once there, it binds tightly to receptors that control the pain response. Using U-47700 results in numbness, sedation, feelings of euphoria, and decreased central nervous system activity. On the street, U-47700 also goes by the names “pink,” “pinky,” or “U4.” This is due to its white or light pinkish appearance. U-47700 may be sold on its own as a chalky powder, as tablets, or combined with heroin or prescription drugs.

Potency of U-47700 Compared to Other Opioids

U-47700 was first created to provide an ultra-powerful drug with a lower addictive potential than morphine. The designer of the drug succeeded in making Pink more potent than morphine. Although the exact potency depends on purity and where the drug was synthesized, it is estimated to be 7 to 8 times more potent than morphine. This makes it attractive to people addicted to opioids, as it results in a powerful high and intense sedative effects. However, this also means that Pink strongly suppresses central nervous system activity, which leads to its dangerous side effects.

What are Pink (U-47700) Side Effects and Toxicity?

Pinky results in side effects similar to other narcotics, including:

  • Euphoria
  • Sedation, relaxation, and numbness
  • Strong analgesia (painkilling)
  • Slowed breathing
  • Pupils that shrink to a pinpoint
  • Constipation
  • Psychosis
  • Itching
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis

Because of its high potency, even very tiny doses of U-47700 can lead to overdose. In 2015 and 2016, Pinky was tied to an estimated 46 opioid overdose deaths in New York, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. In fact, the pop star Prince was killed by an overdose involving fentanyl and Pink. Many more people may be affected by this drug, as it may be combined with heroin or fentanyl without users’ knowledge.

How to Address the Ongoing Fight Against Pink and Other Opioids

The increase in Pink sales in the United States point to larger problems in our ability to address the opioid epidemic. When the drug first began entering U.S. markets, it was able to be sold on the Internet when labeled “not for human consumption” or “for research purposes only.” This is because as a designer drug, the exact chemical formula of U-47700 was not originally regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That changed in November 2016, when the FDA added U-47700 to its list of Schedule I drugs, which is the highest level of regulation. However, new synthetics continue to crop up on the market all of the time. The slow process of adding them to the FDA scheduling list prevents authorities from cracking down on their use and sale.

Clearly, trying to stay ahead of the producers of synthetic opioids is a failing strategy. Instead, we must refocus our efforts on helping people struggling with opioid abuse to get the help they need. In many cases, people first begin using opioids to deal with psychological or emotional pain. U-47700, with its high potency, represents an attractive choice for these individuals. Only by increasing access to effective, compassionate treatment options such as medical detox can we fight back against Pinky and other synthetic opioids.