A new synthetic opioid that is much stronger than fentanyl and morphine has been discovered in Colorado.
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office issued a public alert Thursday warning residents that the drug had been discovered in the state. According to local news outlet KKCO, the drug, N-pyrrolidino Etonitazene, also known by the street name PYRO, is 1,000-1,500 times more powerful than morphine. By comparison, fentanyl is only about 100 times more powerful than morphine, meaning PYRO is 10-15 times stronger than fentanyl.
“A new synthetic opioid has been found in Colorado,” the Sheriff’s Office said in the alert. “The small light blue pills with dark blue flakes are marked with an ‘M’ on one side and ’30’ on the other. This opioid is known as PYRO. Laboratories have determined the pills are more potent than fentanyl. Please use caution if you encounter this opioid and notify law enforcement immediately.”
Small quantities of the drug had previously been discovered in Denver. A spokesman for the Denver Police Department confirmed to Newsweek that it had been found. “Our narcotics investigators tell us anecdotally that minimal amounts of this synthetic opioid have been found in Denver thus far, however one recovery was related to an overdose death that is under investigation, so it’s certainly a concern for us,” the spokesman said.
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office warned that the drug would spread to nearby cities like Grand Junction, and out further. “Within a month, it will make its way down the I-70 corridor,” Mesa County Sheriff’s Lt. Henry Stoffel told KKCO.
According to a public alert from the Center for Forensic Science Research & Education, PYRO has a chemical structure similar to another controlled substance called etonitazene, but different from other synthetic opioids like fentanyl. But unlike other similar drugs that first appeared in scientific literature in the 1950s, PYRO does not appear in any scientific literature or patents. The drug was first discovered by CFSRE’s NPS (Novel Psychoactive Substances) Discovery program in May 2021 after it was initially discovered in a toxicology report. The alert also confirmed that the drug is much stronger than fentanyl — according to recent pharmacological data, PYRO exhibits a similar potency level to etonitazene, which is about 20 times stronger than fentanyl.
The alert showed that PYRO was found in blood samples of eight postmortem toxicology reports in five states: Colorado, Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. An April report from CFSRE, cited by Newsweek, said that PYRO was detected in 21 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. and Canada, including 17 deaths in nine states: Kentucky, West Virginia, Colorado, New Jersey, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Minnesota. But those deaths appeared to have the drug in low concentrations.
Dr. Judith Yates, a Birmingham, U.K.-based physician who analyses drug-related deaths, told KKCO that the drug is likely coming from China via the dark web. She told the BBC in June that the drug was likely a replacement for fentanyl.
“There is no way to tell what’s in a tablet that you’re getting either online or on the street,” Yates told the BBC at the time. Three men in Birmingham died from drug overdoses between October 2021 and January 2022 after taking PYRO. “These three cases have come out of the blue, we’ve never seen this chemical before in Birmingham,” Yates said.