New drug monster on horizon

The Mirror’s March 19 editorial began with the message that “there’s a powerful new villain on the drug scene, and talking about it before it claims people here — warning how deadly it is — is preferable to waiting until coroners and other law enforcement officials are counting its victims.”

The editorial’s headline urged that awareness regarding carfentanil — the villain in question — be raised before it’s too late.

Awareness of that synthetic opioid’s deadly power apparently didn’t reach the 45-year-old man who was found dead in May in Bedford County, resulting from a carfentanil overdose. If the man did know facts about carfentanil, he might have harbored misguided confidence that the drug wouldn’t fatally impact him.

What exactly killed the man wasn’t confirmed until about a week ago, and as a front-page Mirror article Tuesday about the fatality reported, law enforcement and emergency workers, as well as bystanders, were being warned about the threat carfentanil poses.

In that article, Bedford County Coroner Rusty Styer described carfentanil as “almost immeasurably more powerful than heroin.” He warned that carfentanil can be dangerous to those who find themselves anywhere near the substance.

He said responders who touch even a tiny speck of the powder can notice the effects within minutes.

As the March 19 editorial pointed out, carfentanil, first created in the 1970s and in its legal version used for sedating large animals such as elephants, was, as of March, being blamed for at least 700 deaths in states including Ohio, Michigan and Florida.

However, as of that time, there were no reports of the opioid having crossed any border into Pennsylvania.

Now there’s no question that it’s here.

But as if carfentanil weren’t enough to be frightened about, it’s been learned since March that another deadly villain is poised to claim victims, possibly with the speed of carfentanil.

The Associated Press has reported that this “new” deadly drug monster is being called “gray death.”

Actually, it’s not so new, having already been blamed for thousands of fatal overdoses.

According to the AP, it has the appearance of concrete mix and varies in consistency from a hard, chunky material to a fine powder. “Gray death” is a combination of several opioids, including heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and a synthetic opiod called U-47700.

Users have been known to inject, smoke, snort or swallow it.

“Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis,” said Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Meanwhile, as with carfentanil, gray death can be absorbed through the skin, and simply touching the powder puts users at risk, Kilcrease said.

It also would threaten the life of a non-user who might unknowingly come in contact with it.

According to the federal government, deadly combinations are becoming a hallmark of the heroin and opioid epidemic.

The question isn’t whether more combinations will “succeed” gray death. Rather, the relevant question is how soon.

But for now, the immediate question facing this part of Pennsylvania is whether gray death already has arrived and whether talking about it already can be deemed too late.