What is 'pink'? Here's how the new synthetic drug sweeping the US affects the brain.

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A new synthetic drug called U-47700 — also known as "pink" or "pinky" — has been making news for killing dozens of Americans.

What is pink?

U-47700 is a lab-made opioid 700% more potent than heroin.

Earlier this month, two 13-year-olds were found dead in Park City, Utah, after ordering the drug online and likely overdosing on it. U-47700 was also an ingredient in the cocktail of drugs that killed Prince.

Number of overdoses in each state

53 PHOTOS
Drug overdose deaths per state, 2015
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Drug overdose deaths per state, 2015

North Dakota

Deaths per 100,000: 2.7

(Photo by Ben Harding via Getty Images)

South Dakota

Deaths per 100,000: 6.4

(Photo via Getty Images)

Nebraska

Deaths per 100,000: 7.3

(Photo via Getty Images)

Iowa

Deaths per 100,000: 8.7

(Photo via Getty Images)

Minnesota

Deaths per 100,000: 9.4

(Photo by Andrey Krav via Getty Images)

Virginia

Deaths per 100,000: 9.5

(Photo via Getty Images)

Texas

Deaths per 100,000: 9.8

(Photo via Getty Images)

New York

Deaths per 100,000: 10.6

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Mississippi

Deaths per 100,000: 10.7

(Photo via Getty Images)

Georgia

Deaths per 100,000: 10.8

(Photo via Alamy)

Kansas

Deaths per 100,000: 11.1

(Photo via Shutterstock)

California

Deaths per 100,000: 11.3

(Photo via Getty Images)

Hawaii

Deaths per 100,000: 11.8

(Photo by Richard Akuaten via Getty Images)

Maine

Deaths per 100,000: 11.9

(Photo by James Metcalf via Getty Images)

Illinois

Deaths per 100,000: 11.9

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Alabama

Deaths per 100,000: 12

(Photo by Rob Hainer via Getty Images)

Arkansas

Deaths per 100,000: 12.1

(Photo by Joe Sohm via Getty Images)

Oregon

Deaths per 100,000: 12.5

(Photo by Bob Pool via Getty Images)

Idaho

Deaths per 100,000: 12.8

(Photo via Getty Images)

Vermont

Deaths per 100,000: 12.9

(Photo by Denis Tangney Jr. via Getty Images)

South Carolina

Deaths per 100,000: 13

(Photo by Getty Images)

North Carolina

Deaths per 100,000: 13

(Photo via Getty Images)

Wisconsin

Deaths per 100,000: 13.1

(Photo by Henryk Sadura via Getty Images)

New Jersey

Deaths per 100,000: 13.1

(Photo by Denis Tangney Jr. via Getty Images)

Connecticut

Deaths per 100,000: 13.1

(Photo by Sean Pavone via Getty Images)

Maryland

Deaths per 100,000: 13.4

(Photo by Sean Pavone via Getty Images)

Montana

Deaths per 100,000: 13.4

(Photo via Getty Images)

United States average

Deaths per 100,000: 13.5

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Massachusetts

Deaths per 100,000: 13.7

(Photo via Corbis)

Florida

Deaths per 100,000: 13.9

(Photo via Alamy)

Washington

Deaths per 100,000: 14.1

(Photo via Getty Images)

Louisiana

Deaths per 100,000: 14.4

(Photo via Alamy)

Michigan

Deaths per 100,000: 14.5

(Photo via Getty Images)

New Hampshire

Deaths per 100,000: 14.5

(Photo via Getty Images)

Washington, D.C.

Deaths per 100,000: 14.9

(Photo by Mark Segal via Getty Images)

Alaska

Deaths per 100,000: 15.3

(Photo by Sam Diephuis via Getty Images)

Colorado

Deaths per 100,000: 15.8

(Photo by David Parsons via Getty Images)

Indiana

Deaths per 100,000: 15.8

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Wyoming

Deaths per 100,000: 16.4

(Photo by Getty Images)

Missouri

Deaths per 100,000: 16.4

(Photo by Henryk Sadura via Getty Images)

Delaware

Deaths per 100,000: 17.2

(Photo by Ron Chapple via Getty Images)

Tennessee

Deaths per 100,000: 17.6

(Photo via Getty Images)

Arizona

Deaths per 100,000: 18.1

(Photo via Getty Images)

Pennsylvania

Deaths per 100,000: 18.7

(Photo via Getty Images)

Ohio

Deaths per 100,000: 18.9

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Rhode Island

Deaths per 100,000: 19.6

(Photo via Kenneth C. Zirkel via Getty Images)

Oklahoma

Deaths per 100,000: 20.3

(Photo via Getty Images)

Utah

Deaths per 100,000: 21.9

(Photo via Getty Images)

Nevada

Deaths per 100,000: 22.4

(Photo by Andrew Zarivny via Shutterstock)

Kentucky

Deaths per 100,000: 24

(Photo via Getty Images)

New Mexico

Deaths per 100,000: 24.4

(Photo via Getty Images)

West Virginia

Deaths per 100,000: 32.4

(Photo by Stan Rohrer via Getty Images)

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How does pink affect the body and brain?

Opioids — a family of drugs that includes heroin and fentanyl — attach themselves to mu opiate receptors, specific proteins in the brain.

"The linkage of these chemicals with the receptors triggers the same biochemical brain processes that reward people with feelings of pleasure when they engage in activities that promote basic life functions, such as eating and sex," according to a paper on opioid dependence published in the journal "Science and Practice Perspective."

What is "pink"? Here's how the new synthetic drug sweeping the US affects the brain.
A generic image of drugs, including pills, white powder and a syringe
Source: Victoria 1/Shutterstock

One of the neurobiological reactions induced by opioids includes the production of dopamine, which activates a reward system in the brain. In short, it feels good — and often leaves people wanting more.

"This stuff is so powerful that if you touch it, you could go into cardiac arrest," Wade Carpenter, Park City Police Chief, told NBC News after the deaths of the two teenagers. "The problem is, if you have a credit card and a cell phone, you have access to it."

Where does pink come from?

Up until recently, U-47700 been easily accessible. People have been able to be order it on the internet — as the two boys in Utah did — without violating any laws in the process.

But as of Sept. 7, the Drug Enforcement Administration filed a notice of intent to make "pink" a Schedule I drug.

"The sense we get is that this drug is even more dangerous than other synthetic drugs we've seen across our desk," Steve Howe, District Attorney in Johnson County, Kansas, told the Associated Pressin June. His county alone had seen two deaths from lethal overdoses of U-47700.

What is "pink"? Here's how the new synthetic drug sweeping the US affects the brain.
Someone offers another person money in exchange for a bag of pills.
Source: ShutterDivision/Shutterstock

The drug comes in many forms: It can be snorted or taken orally or rectally.

Because it's relatively new to the drug market, U-47700 was not initially regulated by state and federal governments — though that's starting to change as the drug gets more exposure. The DEA's notice of intent is one such example.

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