Chinese authorities have banned a deadly synthetic opioid called U-47700 and three other potent synthetic drugs.
The Ministry of Public Security made the announcement at a news conference on June 19, noting the concurrence of the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the China Food and Drug Administration.
The four substances, referred to as novel psychoactive substances－or NPS－are:
• U-47700 (sometimes called “U-4” or “Pink”; more than seven times the potency of morphine; linked to the death of musician Prince)
• MT-45 (has an effect like morphine; associated with hearing loss and unconsciousness)
• PMMA (a psychedelic stimulant related to methamphetamine, but potentially even more dangerous)
• 4,4’-DMAR (street name “Serotoni”)
Until now, drug traffickers could legally make these drugs by changing the chemical structures of traditional drugs in a laboratory. They would then sell them online.
Commercial factories that currently produce such drugs will be required to cease. With the ban, the drugs－which have no medical value－will be illegal to make or possess.
“NPS have similar narcotic effects or cause more exciting fantasies or anesthetic effects than traditional drugs, including heroin or ice (methamphetamine),” said Deng Ming, deputy director at the ministry’s narcotics control bureau.
The ban will take effect on July 1. Meanwhile, 138 other psychoactive substances, including 23 kinds of fentanyls, have been listed as controlled substances, the ministry said.
In recent years, more than 100 deaths have occurred in Western countries as a result of recreational use of NPS. According to the ministry, since October 2015, Chinese police have arrested 10 suspects involved in producing or trafficking NPS and destroyed eight manufacturing operations.
Police have confiscated 1,753 kilograms of forbidden NPS and 10 metric tons of raw materials for producing them.
“NPS abuse will cause great harm to people’s central nervous systems and has stronger toxicological effects than traditional drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine,” said Yu Haibin, a senior official of the ministry’s narcotics control bureau.
In China, U-47700 has until now been a legal alternative to fentanyl and potent derivatives like carfentanil.
Last year, the US Drug Enforcement Administration listed U-47700 among the most dangerous drugs it regulates, saying it was associated with dozens of fatalities, mostly in New York and North Carolina.
Yu said foreign suspects usually colluded with Chinese accomplices to form a criminal ring. The foreign suspects researched and changed the chemical structures of traditional drugs and placed orders online with some underground pharmaceutical operations for producing and processing NPS, then delivering the drugs through international logistics or express shipments.