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What Is Gray Death? How Is It Abused?

A new street drug named gray death is turning up in some areas of the United States.

Gray death is most often injected but can be snorted or taken orally. The drug gets its name from its appearance, a gray powder that resembles concrete mixture, and from its potency. The drug is reputed to be a mixture of:

  • Heroin: Most people are familiar with the opiate drug heroin. Heroin is an illicit opiate drug that is a Schedule I controlled substance, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This means that the drug has no known medicinal uses, is a significant drug of abuse, and its use results in the potential for the development of physical dependence. Heroin abuse has a long history in the United States, and heroin is one of the most serious drugs of abuse. It cannot be legally owned or purchased without special permissions from the government.
  • Fentanyl: Fentanyl is also an opiate drug that is extremely potent and often administered in a transdermal patch. It can also be taken in liquid or pill form or injected. Brand names for fentanyl include Actiq and Duragesic. This drug is a Schedule II controlled substance. Recently, numerous overdoses of opiate drugs have been attributed to individuals who have taken combinations of heroin and fentanyl. Fentanyl is many times more potent than morphine and can be extremely dangerous if not used under the supervision of a physician. Overdoses on combinations of heroin and fentanyl are particularly dangerous and often fatal if not treated immediately.
  • Carfentanil: Carfentanil is a synthetic analog of fentanyl. It is also extremely potent and a Schedule II controlled substance. One of its major uses is as a tranquilizer for very large animals like elephants. According to the fact-checking site Snopes, claims of exposure to fumes of the drug resulting in effects are valid, and individuals may not have to voluntarily take gray death in order to be affected by it. Instead, mere exposure to gray death, when it contains significant amounts of carfentanil, may result in an individual being overcome by its effects. According to Snopes, there are valid reports of first responders coming to the aid of individuals who have overdosed on gray death being overcome by the fumes. Carfentanil is also believed to have serious potential for use as a chemical weapon.
  • U-47700: Another synthetic opioid drug, U-47700 is a designer drug that is often known as pink on the street. It is marketed as a research chemical by vendors on the Internet. It appears that very little is known about its toxicity level, but it is believed to be extremely potent and potentially dangerous. In 2016, it was temporarily classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.

The combination of these drugs would result in a very serious compound that is many times more potent than powerful opiate drugs like morphine or heroin alone and extremely dangerous to use in any amount. Individuals who are able to use the drug in very small amounts for extended periods of time would most likely develop severe physical dependence on such a drug.

Reports of Gray Death Use

Atan addicts hand is holding a tiny plastic bag with white powder in it and common heroin paraphernalia lays on the table next to it the time of this writing, the majority of information regarding the use of gray death primarily come from scattered news reports. There appear to be several confirmed deaths associated with overdoses on the drug. There are no formal statistics regarding who is using the drug although it would be suspected that intravenous drug users, like those who use heroin,  would be the most likely users. There does not appear to be any data regarding emergency room admissions, admissions to treatment centers, or individuals requesting treatment at rehabilitation centers associated with gray death abuse. Thus, it is difficult to speculate how widespread the use of this particular combination of drugs is at the current time and if the drug is consistently a combination of all the above mentioned drugs or more often just a combination of one or two of them. There may even be cases where other drugs are included in mixtures that are labeled as gray death. In addition, news reports indicate that the mixture is relatively inexpensive, and this may contribute to the numerous reports of overdoses that have been recently visible in the media.


Because of the reputed ingredients that are involved in the making of gray death, it would be suspected that even very small doses of this combination of drugs can have potentially effects.


Because the drug is manufactured and distributed on the street, there is no consistency in the ingredients or in the amounts of ingredients that are in the drug. At this time, there does not appear to be solid reliable reports on the drug’s distribution from organizations like the DEA, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, etc.

Treatment for Overdose

It is believed that the opiate antagonist naloxone can be used to treat individuals who have overdosed on gray death, but these individuals may require significantly more of the medication than is typically used. In addition, individuals who have overdosed on the drug need immediate emergency medical attention. Any significant delay in getting them naloxone could result in serious effects associated with an overdose on gray death.

Conclusions

There is currently very little formalized information regarding the use of gray death, any formalized statistics on overdose cases, and any case studies or research studies on treatment protocols associated with individuals who have developed physical dependence on the drug. Treatment for individuals who have abused gray death should be similar to treatment for opioid use disorders in general. However, it would be wrong to speculate on how extensive the use of this combination of drugs actually is or to speculate its availability in the United States at the current time. Obviously, this is a combination of drugs that should be avoided at all costs due to its extreme potency and the potential for serious overdose effects.