China Finally Agrees To Ban Designer Drug Pink

By Keri Blakinger 06/22/17

Pink, aka U-47700, and three other synthetic drugs will soon make their way onto China's list of controlled substances.

hand holding a baggie of white powder.

As the overdose death toll rises in the United States, China has promised to ban a powerful designer opioid dubbed U-47700, apparently caving to American pressure. 

Also known as "Pink," the drug was technically legal in the U.S. until last year. Then, the DEA added U-47700 to the government's list of Schedule I controlled substances, which includes drugs like heroin and LSD that are defined as having no accepted medical use and "a high potential for abuse." 

But Pink still remained legal in China, which made online ordering a snap. On Monday, officials in Beijing vowed to ban U-47700 along with three other synthetics: MT-45, PMMA, and 4,4’-DMAR. The substances will be banned as of July 1, according to the Associated Press.

Sometimes cut with other drugs, pressed into counterfeit pills, or sold on their own, synthetic opioids represent a growing danger in America. In 2015, nearly 10,000 fatalities—about a fifth of all overdose deaths—were due to synthetic opioids other than methadone. U-47700 was found in some of the pills seized from Prince’s mansion after he died last year of an overdose. 

Because of its booming chemical industry and lax regulations on synthetic opioids, China has been a big supplier of those drugs to everyone from Americans dealers to Mexican cartels, according to law enforcement officials. 

Last summer, the DEA dinged the nation of 1.37 billion as the “primary source” of fentanyl in the U.S. The potent synthetic opioid has been less popular in China, where officials have sometimes thrown blame stateside, arguing that the U.S. hasn’t done enough to decrease demand for the drug.

China has also argued that American officials lack data to support their claim that synthetic opioid producers in China are to blame for rising overdose deaths. 

But after an Associated Press investigation showed just how easy it is to order illicit chemicals from China, the country’s National Narcotics Control Commission started cracking down on web vendors. 

But even as countries continue banning new drugs, enterprising chemists just create more by tweaking the structures of existing substances. Demand for potent highs isn't going away any time soon—and the illicit drug business is as lucrative as ever.

“My feeling is that it’s just like a race and I will never catch up with the criminals,” the Ministry of Public Security’s Narcotics Control Bureau’s division director Yu Haibin said at a press conference. “Actually, we just want to make a breakthrough in dealing with this.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.