Step up efforts to block synthetic opioid sales

It’s death at $40 a gram and it’s available on the internet with a few keystrokes and a credit card. Legally.

That’s the disturbing news here in Racine County and across the country over the “new’’ influx of a synthetic opioid called U-47700 that already is sending people to the morgue in several states with overdoses.

That includes the deaths of two men here in Racine County this summer, according to Racine County Medical Examiner Michael Payne, who put the drug’s effects simply enough: “U-47700 will kill you. It’s something to be considered at this point to be a health hazard to people who elect to try this or use this.’’

That’s echoed by Michael Bell, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Milwaukee assistant special agent in charge, who told a Journal Times reporter, ``Experimenting with them (synthetic opioids) is like playing Russian roulette. You don’t know what you are getting and the first time could be the last.’’

The drug, which is reportedly eight times more potent than morphine, has caused an estimated 50 overdose deaths in the United States in recent months and has states scrambling to add it to their controlled substances list.

Three states — Ohio, Wyoming and Georgia — have already done so and Wisconsin’s Controlled Substances Board is slated to take up possible “scheduling’’ of U-47700, but not until its meeting on Sept. 20.

That seems to us to be a bit slow on the response, but it points out the difficulties at both the state and federal levels in dealing with synthetic drugs that are continually being tweaked and having their formulas changed just slightly from drugs that are on the controlled substance list and banned from being sold or possessed.

The U in the name U-47700 stands for Upjohn pharmaceuticals which developed the drug back in the 1970s in a search for a pain-killer that was less addictive and didn’t affect the respiratory system as much.

According to news reports, it was one of many such drugs developed and patented by the since-acquired pharmaceutical company, but not necessarily put into production.

Today chemical companies — mainly in China — are searching through patent records and scientific literature from that time to find those formulas and how to produce them and then marketing the drug online.

When a “new’’ synthetic drug is banned, those chemical companies move on to market a new one, which always leaves law enforcement and public health agencies operating from behind.

That is not to say the government of China has not cooperated with the U.S. — according to an Associated Press report China banned 116 new psychoactive substances last year at the urging of the United States.

That’s a porous system that needs to be addressed by Congress at the federal level to better control these death-dealing drugs that are too easily marketed online.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, should expedite its system of scheduling and banning once-off drugs before the body count continues to rise. The Journal Times of Racine, Aug. 17


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