Posted on: February 12, 2020 at 8:28 pm
Last updated: May 26, 2020 at 10:06 pm

Over the last twenty years, the use of illicit drugs has been increasing and has become a serious public health concern. The number of drug overdose deaths in the United States has increased from just under seventeen thousand in 1999 to over seventy thousand in 2017 [1].


The primary driver for this increase is the sudden surge of Synthetic Narcotics other than Methadone, such as fentanyl, which has increased exponentially in the last five years. In 2017, deaths from drugs in this category totaled nearly twenty-eight-and-a-half million nationwide [1].

A new, potentially lethal drug has begun to appear on the streets, and officials are warning the public that this “super drug” is so dangerous you should avoid even touching it.


Gray Death

Gray death is a combination of powerful and extremely dangerous drugs that is one hundred times more powerful than fentanyl and ten thousand times more potent than morphine [2,3]. Gray Death is not a single drug- it is made up of a highly variable combination of potent opioids, which can make it even more dangerous. It could contain heroin, fentanyl, and U-47700, all of which are extremely potent narcotics, or it could contain other potent potent opioids such as carfentanil [2].

The drug looks similar to concrete mix but can vary in its consistency from hard, chunky material to a fine powder. 

David Spencer, a spokesperson for the St. Mary’s Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana, wants citizens to know how to recognize the substance should they come across it.

“Be aware of the color,” he said. “It looks like chunks of concrete.” [4]

The drug can be injected, swallowed, snorted, or smoked [4].


How Dangerous is The Drug?

The synthetic, designer combo drug has led to several overdose deaths in the United States [3]. Again, a large part of the danger with gray death is the variability of the drug. Each drug is present in such low combinations that they might not always appear on tests. 

Donna Iula, director of forensic chemistry at Cayman Chemical, a biotechnology company that works with federal and state crime labs to identify unknown street drugs, explains that the cocktail of drugs is what makes it so powerful.

“These chemicals are all very potent and very deadly in isolation, but in the wrong hands … that’s a fast-track route to the morgue,” she said. “You can throw anything in a baggie and call it ‘grey death…It’s going to constantly vary, and it’s going to keep the chemists and the medical examiners on their toes.” [5].

Deneen Kilcrease, a forensic chemist with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab, explains that by slightly altering the fentanyl molecule, foreign chemists may be getting around U.S. laws and exporting drugs faster than they can be regulated by the DEA. Some of these substances are much stronger than fentanyl itself [5].

For example, a single flake of carfentanil can tranquilize a two thousand-pound elephant. This potent drug can float through the air or be absorbed by touch and has been found in some mixes of Gray Death.

“A lethal dose is not even visible to the eye,” said Kilcrease. “That gives me the chills.” [5]

What are the Effects of the Drug?

People use opioids for their euphoric effects, however, it’s the way the drugs affect the users breathing that is often what causes death so quickly. Symptoms from opioids can include:

  • shallow breathing
  • pinpoint pupils
  • nausea or vomiting
  • dizziness
  • lethargy
  • cold or clammy skin
  • loss of consciousness
  • heart failure [3]

Read: Kratom Linked to Nearly 100 Deaths

Can The Effects of Gray Death Be Reversed?

Overdose of the drug is difficult to treat because of the unknown mixture that it may contain. If the drug mixture is narcotic in origin, naloxone could be an effective solution, however, in order for it to work it could take up to five to ten doses, which most people do not have at their disposal [2].

There have, unfortunately, been several reports of gray death that are resistant to the antidote. Again, that is because gray death can be a mixture of almost any combination of drugs. If the mixture contains other types of drugs of a different origin, such as amphetamines, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or cocaine, naloxone will not be effective [2,6].

Where Has the Drug Been Reported?

Gray Death was first reported in Georgia, with metro Atlanta being the most concentrated area. In 2017, the drug started being reported in Alabama, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and is now being found in Louisiana [5,7].

Officials Warn to Stay Away

Because the drug is dangerous even just to touch, it is a very prominent public safety concern. 

“You would really hate to see somebody innocent touch this not knowing what it is or a child touch that now knowing what it is,” Spencer added. “We just definitely just want to educate the public so they know, hey, this is a new thing.” [7]

Officials are warning the public that should you come across the drug, to stay away. Do not pick it up or even touch it, but report it to the authorities right away.

Keep Reading:

The State Of Oklahoma Finally Wins Case against Johnson & Johnson in Historic Opioid Trial, To Receive $572 Million

5 Deadly Medication Combinations To Avoid

Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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