The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said on Thursday it had temporarily categorized a synthetic opioid nicknamed "pink" as a dangerous drug, after receiving at least 46 reports of deaths associated with its use.
The abuse of opioids — a class of drugs that includes heroin and prescription painkillers — has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdose.
"Pink", known to chemists as U-47700, comes from a family of deadly synthetic opioids that are far more potent than heroin, and is usually imported to the United States mainly from China.
It gets its name from the pink-purple hue that comes from the way it is cut or processed.
The DEA said it had temporarily categorized U-47700 as a "Schedule 1" substance, effective Nov. 14, classifying it as a dangerous addictive drug with no medicinal use, placing it on par with heroin, cannabis and LSD.
The scheduling will last for two years, with a possible one-year extension if the DEA requires more data to determine whether it should be permanently scheduled, the agency said.
Of the 46 fatalities, 31 occurred in New York and 10 in North Carolina, the DEA said, from reports it received between Oct. 2015 and Sept. 2016.
Law enforcement agencies have seized the drug in powder form and counterfeit tablets that mimic prescription opioid painkillers, the agency said. (bit.ly/2eFLSr3)
Since substances like U-47700 are often made in illicit labs overseas, their identity, purity, and quantity are unknown, creating a 'Russian roulette' scenario for users, the DEA said.
In March, law enforcement agencies in Ohio seized 500 blue pills that visually appeared to be short-acting oxycodone pills, but a laboratory analysis confirmed they were U-47700. (bit.ly/2emt8BD)
(Reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)