Why Are More Opioid Addicts in Atlanta Dying from “Gray Death?”

By David Heitz

It’s a startling story just emerging this month. Opioid users, primarily in the Atlanta area but also in Ohio and Alabama, are buying a drug that looks like concrete mix.

In fact, it’s a dangerous mix of opioids, police say, and includes the dangerous elephant tranquilizer fentanyl. It can be injected, smoked or swallowed.

People who are dying of overdose in Georgia, particularly in Atlanta, increasingly have this lethal mix in their system. “Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis,” Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told the Associated Press.1

Kilcrease told WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News that she calls the drug “Gray Death” because that is what the mixture looked like found next to the lifeless body of a Brookhaven woman who ingested it.2

“It’s the only gray drug that I’ve ever seen,” she told Channel 2 Action News. “And when I heard what components were it, I didn’t see how anyone could survive it.

Channel 2 Action News reported then that there have been 50 confirmed seizures of “Gray Death” in Georgia this year, most of them in Atlanta, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Just one of the drugs in the mix – furanylfentanyl – has killed at least 22 Georgians in the past year, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported.3

Downtown Atlanta

What Can Be Done to Prevent Gray Death in Atlanta?

With so many opioids purchased on the street now leaving those who consumed them dead, some states are beginning to convict drug dealers of homicide.

“Elected officials unfamiliar with, or resistant to, harm reduction, prevention and treatment interventions…are introducing punitive, counter-productive legislative measures in a misguided effort to reduce overdose fatalities,” DrugPolicy.org said in a policy statement in April 2016.4

Gray Death is so toxic that it is intoxicating some people who simply touch it. But convicting dealers of drug-induced homicides sends a message of “Don’t save this dying person, you could be blamed for their death,” pro-recovery advocates say.

“Drug-induced homicide laws…discourage people from seeking help for fear of prosecution for manslaughter or murder,” DrugPolicy.org proclaims.

“In Illinois, in a majority of drug-induced homicide cases, there was an opportunity to save the overdose victim but the defendants chose inaction because of fear of prosecution,” the site continued, footnoting a study to back that claim.

“It’s amazing to me that they find out one of their friends died from an overdose from the drug and they immediately try to find out where he got it from because they want to try it too,” Lorain County, Ohio detective Jim Larkin told CBS/AP.

“From my own experience, when you’re that addicted, and it gets to that level, you don’t care and it’s all about getting high,” recovering heroin addict Michael Stone told Channel 2 Action News. “I remember saying to myself several times, ‘If I die, I do and if I don’t wake up, I’m dying. Hey, I’m happy.”

Soon, Stone will celebrate three years sober. He found a way out.

Most people who progress to injecting drugs already have exceeded a rather taboo boundary. Whatever is causing them to continue to use, particularly in light of news reports of people dying from the drugs, also needs to be addressed in integrated addiction treatment.

People with opioid use disorder who are regularly taking such life-risking drugs — drugs that look like concrete, drugs that came from someone they don’t know, drugs that may even have killed someone they do know – need treatment for whatever trauma has caused them to feel not worthy of a better life.

Learning to Love One’s Self and Seeing Worthiness in Everyone

On the website “Heroes in Recovery,” Tim R. describes how he battled alcoholism, heroin overdoses, trips to prison, and finally found recovery in the 12-Step rooms.

Even after Tim R. got sober though, life threw him a curveball. And it does, even after you get sober. Managing the difficulties that life can present is critical to anyone wanting to recover from substance abuse.

“On Aug. 1, 2014 my 20-year-old son died from a heroin overdose,” he writes. “I spoke to him two days prior to get him some naloxone (just in case) and he said, ‘Dad, I am not on that BS anymore.’ When I got to the hospital with my ex-wife and went to the ER the person that came to greet us was the chaplain. My first thought was, ‘I need to hit the 6 pm support meeting tonight’ and I did that.

“We laid my son to rest that Tuesday and that Thursday I ran my naloxone training group as planned that week. I am grounded in the 12 Steps and getting out of myself to help others.

“Yes, it hurts deeply that I lost my son to this disease we have, but my recovery must be number one.”5


Sources:

1 CBS News/Associated Press. (2017, May 4). “Gray death” is the latest, “scariest” opioid drug threat. Retrieved June 3, 2017, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/gray-death-opioid-dangerous-drug-combination/

2 Winne, M. (2017, May 17). GBI confirms first victim of ‘gray death’ drug in Georgia. WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News. Retrieved June 3, 2017, from http://www.wsbtv.com

3 Habersham, R. (2017, May 16). ‘Gray death:’ Heroin, fentanyl mix kills DeKalb woman. Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Retrieved June 3, 2017, from http://www.ajc.com/news/crime–law/gray-death-heroin-fentanyl-mix-kills-dekalb-woman/3gTBbBq2HdXECwY1LlW1tI/

4 DrugPolicy.org. (2016, April). Drug-induced Homicide Laws: A misguided Response to Overdose Deaths. Retrieved June 3, 2017, from http://www.drugpolicy.org/press-release/2017/11/overdose-death-not-murder-why-drug-induced-homicide-laws-are

5 Tim R. (2014, Sept. 27). Tim: A Man in Recovery. Heroes in Recovery. Retrieved June 3, 2017, from http://heroesinrecovery.com/stories/tim-man-recovery/