Recent news stories have brought to light a dangerous opioid pain medication, known as U-47700, that is being “recycled” and used as a party drug. Numerous reports indicate serious harmful side effects, resulting in respiratory depression and hospitalization in the intensive care unit.
Like many other opioids, U-47700 is being used on the street for its supposed euphoric effects. However, based on the incidents highlighting the potential for serious harm, particularly the risk of fatal overdoses, authorities in recently affected areas have issued warnings about the dangers of this substance.
Origin of U-47700
The unusual alphanumeric name for the painkiller gives a hint at its origin as a research drug. This is a term applied to a broad variety of psychoactive drugs that are intended for laboratory use in scientific and medical research.
Originally developed by a team of scientists at Upjohn in the 1970s, U-47700 was discovered through a process of experimentation and exploration while studying the molecular activity of various chemical compounds, particularly those affecting the opioid receptors (MOR) in the brain.
As an experimental chemical, it has never been studied in humans or subjected to clinical trials. Thus it has no history to establish its toxicology or human pharmacology, and it is not approved as safe for human consumption.
Effects of U-47700
Although the drug has existed for around forty years, it does not have a well-established safety profile and may have undocumented side effects, interactions or contraindications. In animal testing models, U-47700 was determined to have approximately 7.5 times more potency than morphine.
As a potent opioid agonist, U-47700 would be expected to produce effects similar to those of other drugs of the same classification, such as methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Depending on the dosage, frequency and ingestion method, these effects include a variety of symptoms, which could be harmful or fatal, including:
Analgesia (feeling no pain)
Euphoria (feeling high)
Respiratory depression (shallow or slow breathing)
Itching or flushed skin
Confusion or poor judgment
Since U-47700 is an especially strong synthetic opioid, it poses particularly high risks for potential overdose and respiratory depression. The drug has been linked to deaths throughout Europe, including a case in Belgium where it was connected with the use of fentanyl. These facts prompted Sweden and Finland to declare the substance illegal.
U-47700 Similar to Heroin
The World Drug Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime notes an emerging phenomenon among opioid-dependent drug users in the United States where synthetic opioids are being frequently replaced with heroin.
This tendency is driven in part by the increased availability of heroin in parts of the U.S., which lowers costs to regular users to maintain their dependency. Additionally, several common prescription pharmaceuticals have new abuse-deterrent formulations, making them more difficult to snort or inject.
U-47700 is a relatively obscure research drug that has not been approved for human use, let alone reformulated to prevent abuse. It is usually sold in powder or granule form, making it easier to misuse. According to anecdotal evidence, it also has a heroin-like high but with a significantly shorter duration of action.
These facts, coupled with the relative ease of acquiring the substance through online sources, may be creating a growing interest in U-47700 among those who abuse opioids.