The opioid epidemic began around 2000, when prescribing policies around opioid painkillers loosened. Doctors believed that patients should have greater access to medications to reduce pain from surgery or injury, so they began prescribing oxycodone- and hydrocodone-based narcotic medicines to more people. Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the aim to help actually led to an epidemic of addiction to these painkillers, and stopping or reversing the epidemic has not been easy.
By 2010, medical professionals and government regulators understood that they needed to tighten control of narcotic painkiller medications again, and by 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed both hydrocodone and oxycodone on the list of Schedule II substances. Although much more oversight helped to prevent drug-seeking behavior in people struggling with addiction to opioids, those people began turning to substances that were easier to acquire, such as heroin, fentanyl, and similar opioids for sale illegally.
Grey Death’s Contribution to the Opioid Overdose Epidemic
Currently, over 1,000 people are admitted to the emergency room due to an overdose on opioid drugs, and 91 Americans die every day from opioid-related problems. While it may be harder for people struggling with addiction to narcotics to get these drugs with a prescription, more potent opioids have long been available for purchase on the black market.
Recently, more potent opioids like fentanyl, which was designed to treat severe pain from chronic ailments like cancer, and carfentanil, an opioid used to tranquilize large animals like elephants in veterinary medicine, have found their way to lacing heroin, being sold instead of oxycodone or heroin, or even being abused knowingly in place of these drugs. People who are physically tolerant to high doses of potent opioids like heroin may not know how to properly dose drugs like fentanyl, which are even more potent, and this can rapidly lead to overdose and death. It is believed that the presence of drugs more potent than morphine on the streets is the main driver in the recent increase in opioid overdose deaths across the country.
A new and incredibly dangerous opioid is now available, and its name serves as a warning: Grey death, a mixture of several synthetic opioids, has made its way to several states in the US and led to many rapid overdoses and deaths. The drug is called grey death in part because it is grey, although medical researchers do not know exactly what makes the drug that color. However, it can be distinguished from other powdered forms of opioids being sold illicitly because it looks like concrete or pavement. The other part of the name stems from the fact that grey death is likely to kill a person who uses it.
What Is Grey Death?
There is no standard mixture of opioids in grey death, but the drug may include:
- Fentanyl-like molecules
Grey death may also contain cocaine, crystal meth, or powdered additives. Because the mixture is always unpredictable and contains some of the most potent opioids available through lab manufacture, dosing is virtually impossible.
It is extremely important to call 911 if someone is suffering from an opioid overdose, especially on a potent and deadly mixture like grey death. Signs of an opioid overdose include:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Respiratory depression
- Bluish tint to the skin
- Clammy skin
- Lower body temperature
- Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
Grey death has become very popular in spite of the dangers because it is cheaper than heroin: only $10-20, by most reports.
The Spread of Grey Death into the US and Canada
Indiana was one of the first states to report on the drug, according to Snopes, after sensational reports from other sources went viral and made the drug seem like it might be an urban legend. Unfortunately, grey death is real, and it is beginning to kill many people.
The drug appeared first in the Atlanta metro area in 2012, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). It may have started as a slightly different mix of drugs, not primarily focused on opioids, but that changed rapidly due to America’s opioid addiction and overdose epidemic. One of the earliest overdose reports came from Georgia, where a woman overdosed on the mixture in February 2016. Since then, police in Georgia seized about 50 batches of the drug, mostly in the Atlanta area. There have been 22 overdoses between 2016 and 2017, and 17 overdose deaths between January and April 2017. Grey death has also been found in Alabama, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Canada reports that the drug has been found in the northern country as well.