On the heels of warnings about Zohydro – a powerful painkiller approved this week by the FDA amid controversy and concern – is an even more powerful synthetic drug known on the street as “Gravel.”
It’s very addictive, extremely dangerous, and emergency rooms around the country are seeing the number of overdoses related to this drug escalate. And all of this comes against the backdrop of the pending autopsy report in the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. What exactly caused his overdose? Could it have been heroin laced with Zohydro or Gravel?
“Gravel is a new breed of synthetic drugs,” says A. R. Mohammad, M.D., an addiction-medicine specialist and medical director of Inspire Malibu treatment center in Los Angeles. “It’s difficult for even trained healthcare professionals to recognize the symptoms of someone under the influence of Gravel.”
Synthetic drugs are substances that are chemically laced to create a high that is similar to other illegal drugs, like cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana. “These drugs are incredibly unsafe because users have no idea what chemical compounds they’re ingesting,” says Dr. Mohammad.
Echoing Dr. Mohammad’s sentiments, a chemist from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) chemical evaluation section who preferred to remain anonymous said, “The evolution of these drugs is providing a challenge for toxicology screens. When someone is presenting at an emergency department, they are presenting with an unknown drug in their system. This can make it incredibly difficult for doctors and first responders to help someone who has overdosed.”
Gravel and the street drug, “Bath Salts”, which has also been in the news in the recent past, are an emerging class of drugs. These substances contain synthetic chemicals related to Cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant that naturally occurs in a plant called Khat. Similar to Bath Salts, users either smoke, snort or inject Gravel.
Coming in a crystal-like form, Gravel is a mixture of bath salts, methamphetamine and Klonopin that comes is a crystal-like form. Another compound showing up in Gravel is called alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha PVP). This synthetic stimulant wreaks havoc on the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. Furthermore, some samples of Gravel that were seized contained ammonia nitrate, a flammable compound found in fertilizer. “This recipe adds up to bad news for anyone using it,” says Dr. Mohammad
Here’s are some of the known effects of the synthetic drug Gravel, according to Dr. Mohammad:
- Intense paranoia
- Damage to the central nervous system and brain Rise in blood pressure
- Spiking heart rate
- Rapid deterioration of overall physical health and appearance
“The real bad side effect of taking the drug,” says emergency room physician Jon Mettert, “is the paranoia. We’ve actually seen people becoming paranoid. People committing suicide from the paranoia.” Dr. Mettert went on to comment that Gravel might be the most dangerous drug he’s ever come across.
Unfortunately, Gravel has not received adequate national media coverage. So, a lot of the public isn’t even aware of this damaging new synthetic drug until it gets a foothold in their community. In cities and towns where it is being found in large quantities, law enforcement is noticing a rise in thefts and property crimes. They also report that the difference in price for the drug has to do with its purity, whether there’s more alpha-PVP or if a batch is cut with some other harmful chemicals.
“The trend of these so-called ‘designer drugs’ is cause for concern by parents, teachers, law enforcement and first aid personnel,” says Dr. Mohammad. After the DEA used emergency authority to ban the chemicals found in Bath Salts, the incidents of overdose on that drug decreased. “The challenge that authorities are facing with Gravel, however, is that the individual ingredients in this drug are already illegal and are difficult to track when they come in from different locations overseas.,” he says.