What is "pink"? Here's how the new synthetic drug sweeping the US affects the brain.

What is "pink"? Here's how the new synthetic drug sweeping the US affects the brain.
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

A new synthetic drug called U-47700 — also known as "pink" or "pinky" — has been making news for killing dozens of Americans.

What is pink?

U-47700 is a lab-made opioid 700% more potent than heroin.

Earlier this month, two 13-year-olds were found dead in Park City, Utah, after ordering the drug online and likely overdosing on it. U-47700 was also an ingredient in the cocktail of drugs that killed Prince

How does pink affect the body and brain?

Opioids — a family of drugs that includes heroin and fentanyl — attach themselves to mu opiate receptors, specific proteins in the brain.

"The linkage of these chemicals with the receptors triggers the same biochemical brain processes that reward people with feelings of pleasure when they engage in activities that promote basic life functions, such as eating and sex," according to a paper on opioid dependence published in the journal "Science and Practice Perspective."

A generic image of drugs, including pills, white powder and a syringe
Source: 
Victoria 1/Shutterstock

One of the neurobiological reactions induced by opioids includes the production of dopamine, which activates a reward system in the brain. In short, it feels good — and often leaves people wanting more

"This stuff is so powerful that if you touch it, you could go into cardiac arrest," Wade Carpenter, Park City Police Chief, told NBC News after the deaths of the two teenagers. "The problem is, if you have a credit card and a cell phone, you have access to it."

Where does pink come from?

Up until recently, U-47700 been easily accessible. People have been able to be order it on the internet — as the two boys in Utah did — without violating any laws in the process. 

But as of Sept. 7, the Drug Enforcement Administration filed a notice of intent to make "pink" a Schedule I drug. 

"The sense we get is that this drug is even more dangerous than other synthetic drugs we've seen across our desk," Steve Howe, District Attorney in Johnson County, Kansas, told the Associated Press in June. His county alone had seen two deaths from lethal overdoses of U-47700. 

Someone offers another person money in exchange for a bag of pills.
Source: 
ShutterDivision/Shutterstock

The drug comes in many forms: It can be snorted or taken orally or rectally. 

Because it's relatively new to the drug market, U-47700 was not initially regulated by state and federal governments — though that's starting to change as the drug gets more exposure. The DEA's notice of intent is one such example. 

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Natasha Noman

Natasha is a News Staff Writer covering global affairs. She previously reported on regional affairs from Pakistan. Natasha is based in New York and can be reached at natasha@mic.com.

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