US police have issued an urgent public alert after a spate of deaths from a drug so potent it can kill anyone who touches it.
The opioid known as furanyl fentanyl – a version of the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl – can cause a fatal overdose just by being absorbed through the skin. It’s reportedly caused 19 deaths in the state of Georgia over the last year.
The drug was placed on the Schedule I list of controlled substances last year after being associated with 128 deaths across five states in 2015 and 2016. Schedule I is reserved for drugs with the highest levels of addictiveness.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has reacted to the number of overdoses and incidents related to the drug, as well as others, by issuing a public safety alert Thursday.
“U-47700 and furanyl fentanyl are both Schedule I drugs and used in the same manner as heroin. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical treatment use in the United States. The drugs are distributed in either powder or tablet form,” GBI said in a statement.
“Because furanyl fentanyl and U-47700 are lethal at very low doses, law enforcement and the public should use caution when handling these drugs. They can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and are extremely toxic in the smallest quantities.”
The warning comes after 10kgs (23lbs) of pills and powder were seized during a raid on a pill factory in January, according to WSB-TV. GBI staff became alarmed when they discovered that a box containing pills marked ‘Oxycodone’, a non-hazardous opioid, was in fact furanyl fentanyl.
Gwinnett County Deputy Shannon Volkadov said: “When I found out what I actually had, [I was] definitely a little scared because of the amount that was submitted. Anything could have happened, but luckily with the protective gear and the staff that I had, everything went OK.”
GBI Crime Lab chemist Dineen Kilcrease added: “Oxycodone to touch it is still going to be very safe. To touch furanyl fentanyl could absolutely be fatal, just through the skin.”
Fentanyl itself has been on the rise in the US in recent years, surpassing heroin as the most commonly detected drug in fatal opioid overdoses in Long Island and Connecticut. Last year, the drug was responsible for 188 fatal overdoses in Connecticut, according to figures from the state’s chief medical examiner.
Across the Atlantic, an off-shoot of fentanyl, known as ‘Serial Killer’ or ‘Drop Dead,’ was discovered in the UK when the bodies of four drug users were found in the Barnsley area of South Yorkshire on April 14. This was followed by two more fatalities in Leeds and Normanton in West Yorkshire the following day.