- 10 Feb 17
Stuart Clark looks at the new heroin-mimicking opiate linked to a recent Cork death, and separately, hears why fears about medically supervised injecting rooms being introduced here are unfounded.
The dangers posed by the new wave of designer drugs were tragically highlighted last month when 16-year-old Michael Cornacchia, from the Deerpark area of Cork, died after taking what he thought was cocaine. It was in fact a synthetic heroin-mimicking opiate called U-47,700. Fearing that there would be more fatalities, the HSE issued a warning. “All drug users are advised,” they stated, “that there is no guarantee that the drug you think you are buying and consuming is in fact the drug you are sold. We are aware that substances sold as cocaine may in fact contain other substances such as synthetic opioids. There is no way of telling what is in a powder or pill just by looking at it. It may look like the drug you want to purchase but it may well be something else.” Commonly known as U4, the opiate has been available as a research chemical since the 1970s, but only entered the recreational drug food chain in Europe in 2014.
Mainly manufactured in China, where the authorities turn a pretty much blind eye to anything that brings in foreign hard currency, it was among the combination of drugs that killed Prince and retails online for upwards of €30 a gram.
The singer was one of almost 100 Americans who were last year found to have U4 in their system when they died. There have also been four related deaths recently in Finland, and one apiece in the UK, Sweden and Belgium. “The street cocaine sold in Ireland – if that’s what in fact it is – is almost always of very low purity,” proffers Dublin-based addiction specialist Dr. Garrett McGovern. “Wanting to increase their profits, dealers bulk it up with other substances that are cheap, readily available and often non-psychoactive. It would therefore seem strange to me that they’d adulterate it with something that has to be brought in from abroad, might be intercepted by customs and costs roughly the same as cocaine. Also, whereas cocaine is a stimulant, U4 is a very strong sedative.”