One Floyd County teenager may have already been killed by a drug that can be bought legally online, and it’s just beginning to filter into the state.
U-47700, which goes by the street name U-4, is a synthetic opioid that acts much like fentanyl, according to GBI Public Affairs Deputy Director Nelly Miles.
Fentanyl is used to treat severe pain, traditionally after a medical procedure.
U-4, which comes in both powder and tablet form, is not a controlled substance on either the federal or state level, Miles said.
Rome police Lt. Joe Costolnick said he is 99.9 percent sure that a Floyd County man most likely died just last week from taking the new drug.
His body has been sent to the GBI Crime Lab for analysis.
‘This stuff is legal’
“This stuff is legal,” Costolnick said. “You can buy this crap on the internet. We would love to see a law (prohibiting it).”
State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said he hopes to meet with Gov. Nathan Deal this week in effort to pass an emergency order outlawing the drug.
An emergency executive order from Gov. John Kasich outlawed the drug in Ohio earlier this year, Hufstetler said.
Costolnick said another Floyd County man overdosed on U-4 about three weeks ago and had to be resuscitated. He added that 19 people are suspected of dying from U-4 in North Carolina.
“Kids are dying all over the place,” he continued. “The high is a lot like heroin.”
It’s not a bad batch or taking too much of the new drug that is killing people either. Two people could snort or ingest the same amount from the same batch and one could get high and the other could die, Costolnick said.
The chemical reacts differently to each body, he said, and it reacts differently each time the drug is taken.
Hufstetler said the drug is about 7.5 times more potent than morphine and is produced in China. It can be ordered legally online for about $40.
Some reported heroin overdoses may have actually been caused by U-4, Hufstetler continued. Some reports say that Prince may have had the drug in his system when he overdosed, he added.
The Georgia Board of Pharmacy outlawed the use of the drug in April, Hufstetler said, but that doesn’t carry legal implications.
Board of Pharmacy rulings act as a watch list for legislators to consider when the next legislative session opens up, Miles stated.
The April ruling, according to Miles, essentially makes possession of the drug a civil violation, meaning law enforcement officers can confiscate the drug but cannot arrest those who sell, purchase or possess it.
Skirting the law
Hufstetler said one of the problems with outlawing U-4 is Chinese pharmacy producers will likely respond by changing a small portion of the drug on a molecular level.
The drug would still keep its basic characteristics, but would be technically be a new drug in the eyes of the law, Hufstetler continued.
Therefore, he is also looking into the legality of making all synthetic opioids illegal until they can be reviewed.
Costolnick understands trying to educate the public about a new drug trend is a double-edged sword, because somebody will naturally want to experiment.
However, he said he wants parents to know and he wants law enforcement to get out in front of the drug before more people die.
“It’s terrifying,” he said, adding that it reminds him of the recent bath salts phase that swept the nation.
Parents shouldn’t be afraid to open packages sent to their kids or search their bedrooms if they believe they have a reason to be concerned, Costolnick said.
“You have an obligation to protect your children,” he said.
The Rome-Floyd Metro Task Force is currently being trained and educated about the drug, Costolnick said.
“It’s coming and it’s dangerous,” Costolnick concluded.