Pubdate: Wed, 23 Nov 2016
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2016 St. Petersburg Times
Note: A Chicago Tribune editorial
Page: A6


It can be bought online and shipped to your doorstep, like shoes from
Zappos or a mystery novel from Amazon. It's cheap, just $40 for a gram.
Nicknames: pink, U4. Potency: eight times more powerful than morphine.
Death toll: at least 50 and counting.

Two recent casualties should be incentive enough to clamp down on the
drug's availability and the people who profit from it. Best friends
Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth from Park City, Utah, got their hands
on the drug, formally named U-47700, through a teenage friend who
bought it online from a company in Shanghai. Both Seaver and Ainsworth
were 13. Grant's parents found him dead from an overdose of pink Sept.
11. Two days later, Ryan's father found his son dead on the couch.

An opioid epidemic is sweeping through the country, and America can't
keep up.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than
28,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2014. About half of those
deaths involved prescription drugs. Much needs to be done to stop
doctors from overprescribing opioid painkillers and shift toward
alternative, nonaddictive measures for pain. But there's another side
to the problem that is just as worrisome: the ease with which opioids
not prescribed by doctors can be purchased through overseas websites.

These drugs include U-47700 and the ever-growing list of versions of
fentanyl, an opioid at least 50 times more powerful than morphine.

Neither the states nor the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration can
keep up with the rapid evolution of new opioid drugs manufactured
overseas. With whack-a-mole futility, regulators are banning opioids
gaining popularity with users, only to find that they've been replaced
by other deadly substances appearing in online markets and,
eventually, the bloodstreams of teens and 20somethings.

DEA officials announced the start of a two-year ban on U-47700 on
Monday. Various mutations of fentanyl have been banned. But with every
ban, foreign laboratories find a way to tweak the formula chemically
so that the drug can still be regarded as legal in the United States.

Many of these drugs are legal for research purposes but not yet
approved as medical treatment. China is the leading overseas source
for these drugs, including U-47700. The drug was created in the 1970s
by pharmaceutical giant Upjohn as a less addictive alternative to
morphine. But animal tests showed it still led to addiction, so its
appearance on the market was scuttled.

Chinese labs, however, relied on online patent records and material
from scientific journals that gave them enough information to produce
the drug themselves. By late 2014, it began appearing on websites for
online purchase.

So far, state and federal regulators have been stumped for a solution.
One reason regulators can't keep pace is because the entities that
watch for new opioid threats have no clearinghouse with which to share
what they find out.

Federal and state officials need a better way to pinpoint the next new
opioid finding its way into American iPads and laptops. With that
data, the federal government can pressure China into shutting down
production of the drug. Washington has already gotten China to do that
with certain kinds of fentanyls, but the DEA needs to keep up on what
the next generation of drugs will be.
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MAP posted-by: Matt