Law enforcement warns public about dangerous synthetic opioid

Published: Aug. 22, 2016 at 11:19 PM EDT
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A dangerous narcotic gaining popularity across the country has been found right here in the U.P.

The synthetic opioid is called U-47700, or U-4 for short.

According to Detective Lt. Tim Sholander, who oversees the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team, preliminary reports from the Michigan State Police Crime Lab are showing that this dangerous substance can be linked to some drug-related cases in the U.P.

This is why law enforcement is warning the public to stay away.

"We want people to be aware that even though it's not an illegal drug, it's causing some serious concerns across the state with overdose deaths," Sholander said.

This synthetic opioid, which is currently legal, is thought to be almost eight times more potent than morphine.

"When you have heroin, a drug that people commonly overdose on, and they try to mix a drug like this U-47700, the chances of overdose or overdose death greatly increase," Sholander said.

The risk becomes even greater when you factor in that naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, which are drugs that reverse opioid overdoses, are less effective when it comes to a U-47700 overdose.

"Some of the reports I've seen seem to indicate Narcan is not really as effective for U-47700, and I don't know why," Addiction Medicine Specialist Dr. John Lehtinen said. "It should work, it really should work because U-47700 hits the same opiate receptors as oxycodone and Vicodin and any of the other opiates, so there's something unique about U-47700, which even makes it more dangerous."

The easy accessibility of this drug is also a concern. It can be purchased online with just the click of a button and shipped directly to your home. That's why parents and all who know someone suffering from an opiate addiction are being told to be aware.

"We are asking people to basically watch, don't use this drug, don't purchase it and use it for illegal purposes," Sholander said.

It's hard to get a firm count on fatal overdoses from U-47700. The known abuse of this drug is new so they just recently began testing for it.

"At this point, just because this drug has been related to overdose deaths in other parts of the country and other parts of the state, we are keeping an eye on it," Sholander said. "We are notifying all local and state law enforcement to watch out for this drug, and notify us if they come across this drug. Our crime lab is also doing the same of notifying UPSET so we can further these investigations and see what kind of level of crime is really associated with this drug."