Law enforcement authorities in the United States linked the fatal overdose of a teen to two darknet narcotic vendors, who were arrested recently.

The Drugs and Vice Division of the Portland Police Bureau, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Postal Service started an investigation after 18-year-old Aisha Zughieh-Collins was found dead from an overdose from the synthetic substance U-47700.

U-47700, also known as “Pink”, “Pinky”, or “U4” on the streets, is a synthetic opioid substance, which is used for pain medication. However, when people use the drug recreationally, it can be extremely dangerous. Since 2015, several deaths were reported in connection with the substance. U-47700 has been seized by law enforcement authorities on the street in powder form and as tablets. Typically it appears as a white or light pinkish, chalky powder. It may be sold in glassine bags stamped with logos imitating heroin, in envelopes and inside knotted corners of plastic bags. In Ohio, authorities reported that they had seized approximately 500 pills resembling a manufacturer’s oxycodone immediate-release tablets, but they were confirmed by chemical analysis to contain Pink. U-47700 is also sold on the internet (both on the clearnet and the dark web) misleadingly as a “research chemical” at roughly $30 per gram. Experts in the case reported that even small doses can be very toxic or even deadly for the persons who use the drug. Labels on the products sold on the internet may state “not for human consumption” or “for research purposes only”, probably in an effort to avoid legal detection. Fatalities due to U-47700 in the United States join the growing incidence of drug overdose deaths due to prescription opioids and other synthetic designer drugs like fentanyl and spice. Since these synthetic drugs come from dubious sources, the users can never know what is in them, how much, and the toxicity. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported at least 46 deaths linked to the use of U-47700 in 2015 and 2016. However, the DEA stated that there were no reports of fatal overdoses of Pink from years before 2015.

On November 14, 2016, the DEA placed U-47700, as well as its related isomers, esters, ethers, and salts, into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act due to an “imminent hazard to public safety and health”. Drugs that fall into the category of Schedule I have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

After the death of Zughieh-Collins, the Portland Police determined in the course of the investigation that the victim bought the dangerous substance from a darknet vendor named “Peter the Great”. According to the investigators, the Peter the Great pseudo name belonged to the 28-year-old Theodore Vitaliy Khleborod, and to his 24-year-old accomplice, Ana Milena Barrero.

Local media outlets reported that law enforcement authorities placed Khleborod under 24-hours of surveillance at least for one week, and arrested him on April 26. On the same day, Barrero was detained when she was walking from the post office back to her apartment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said she had 20 to 30 parcels on her person at the time of her arrest. On April 26, law enforcement authorities executed a federal search warrant, where they seized approximately nine kilograms of U-47700 along with packages containing narcotics, ready to be shipped to the customers. The drugs that were found in the suspects’ apartment are estimated to be worth about $25,000.

Hazmat crews were seen at the South Ridge Apartments in Greenville, SC during a synthetic drug bust, April 26, 2017 (WSPA)

Hazmat crews were seen at the South Ridge Apartments in Greenville, SC during a synthetic drug bust, April 26, 2017 (WSPA)

Khleborod and Barrero are facing charges of possession with the intent to distribute and distribution of U-47700, a Schedule I controlled substance, conspiring to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute U-47700, and using the U.S. Mail to facilitate a drug trafficking crime. Since there is already enough incriminating evidence against both suspects, even if they confess their crimes, they can be sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment.

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