Have you heard of Pink? I’m not talking about the cool pop singer who stopped doing hard drugs in the 90’s. A new drug called “Pink” started popping up at the end of last year around the U.S. It has already caused a number of overdose deaths and is said to be stronger than heroin. Some states have already taken steps to make the drug illegal, believing this will help stop its use and its deadly consequences. What exactly is Pink and why should we be worried?
What is “Pink”?
Pink is a synthetic drug also known as U-47700. It’s a lab-made opioid that is 700 percent more potent than heroin. It was first developed at a pharma company called Upjohn in Michigan in the 1970’s. It belongs to the same powerful group of opioids as ifentanyl, carfentanil, and furanylfentanyl. The drug comes in many forms and can be snorted, taken orally or rectally. Pink has never been tested on humans, yet as of October 2016 was still legal in 46 of the 50 states. Like most other opioids, one of the neurobiological reactions of Pink is the production of dopamine, which activates a reward system in the brain. The high is euphoric and often leaves the user wanting more. Pink is easily accessible and has been frequently purchased on their internet from overseas, specifically Sweden and China. Following its sale as a designer drug, Sweden made Pink illegal. The powerful, ersatz opioids are just one kind of a surge of synthetic drugs like bath salts and different forms of ecstasy, entering the U.S.
More opioid overdose deaths
Two 13-year-old boys died in September 2016 in Park City, Utah after overdosing on Pink, which was sent to their home legally by U.S. mail. Investigators reported that as many as 100 Park City students had been discussing the drug Pink on Snapchat and other social media outlets. This month, a Phoenix, Arizona news outlet reported that there have been three confirmed overdose deaths in one local county due to Pink. The special Agent in charge of the DEA in Arizona, Doug Coleman told KPHO/KTVK, “We didn’t even know it was here until just recently. We knew that it was coming across the country because DEA tracks nationally. But we weren’t positive it was here in Arizona, because none of our cases had come up where we were actually seizing this product.” The discovery of Pink in Maricopa County, Arizona was reported as part of an ongoing effort by the DEA’s Heroin Enforcement Action Team.
The drug Pink has been connected to close to 50 deaths nationwide. It’s no secret that we’re currently in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic. The CDC reports that total opioid overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, rising from 8,050 to 28,647. Additionally, the rate of those deaths caused by synthetic opioids increased twice as fast, from just 730 in 1999 to 5,544 in 2014. The Drug Enforcement Administration has also confirmed fatalities from Pink in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. In September 2016, Florida signed an emergency order outlawing the drug after it was tied to 8 deaths. Following a few emergency orders in other states, the DEA temporarily placed Pink on its list of Schedule I drugs joining heroin, ecstasy, and bath salts. The agency now has three years to make a final decision whether to permanently outlaw the substance or change it back to a non-controlled status. The DEA has also reported that illegal Chinese laboratories were mass producing fentanyl and selling it to U.S. dealers through pharmacies online.
What can we do?
The ban is not foolproof of course, especially since Pink transactions have been primarily done through the internet and the mail. This is where prevention comes in. Parents should be paying attention to what they’re kids are doing online, what they’re ordering by mail, and who they are interacting with at school.
Access to naloxone is important and has thankfully increased around the country. Naloxone is an opioid reversal drug that can help someone who has overdosed regain consciousness. It has been put in the hands of our country’s first responders like firefighters, some of whom have said they see more overdoses than fires.
Naloxone isn’t without controversy. Some have equated it to a Band-Aid, while others recognize it does what it’s intended to do: save lives.
At the end of the day, new drugs like Pink will continue to pop up as the years go on. It’s what our response is to the opioid epidemic that counts. People can’t get sober and live their lives in recovery if they aren’t alive. It’s as simple as that. Damage control comes first, then we must be vigilant on making addiction treatment more readily available, as well as working to break the stigma of addiction by telling our stories of recovery. Talk to your children, your co-workers, and your friends and family. Let’s do what we can do to face addiction.