An emergency regulation issued Tuesday adds a painkiller called U-47700 to the list of illegal drugs in Kentucky, according to a news release from Gov Matt Bevin.
Bevin issued the administrative rule designating the drug, a synthetic opioid nicknamed “pink,” as a Schedule I controlled substance.
That is the same category as heroin and fentanyl, which have played a key role in pushing overdose deaths in Kentucky to a record level. A total of 1,248 people died of drug overdoses in Kentucky in 2015, up from 1,088 in 2014.
The emergency regulation will allow police to make arrests in cases involving the drug, said Van Ingram, head of the Office of Drug Control Policy, who worked with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services on the rule.
The drug has just begun to show up in Kentucky, but authorities wanted to make clear it is illegal before abuse becomes more widespread.
Most of the U-47700 in the U.S. comes from China and is sold over the internet, where it is sometimes advertised as being legal in some states, Ingram said.
“We want to send a message that it’s not legal in Kentucky. It’s dangerous,” Ingram said.
Ingram said there have been three cases in which police found the drug and sent it to the state police crime laboratory for analysis.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also has added U-47700 to the list of Schedule I drugs.
Bevin said in a news release that the emergency regulation also allows other drugs classified as controlled substances by the federal government to be placed in the same class in Kentucky. That allows the process to be expedited, rather than having to reopen a regulation every time a new synthetic drug pops up, Bevin said.
Trying to control synthetic drugs has been a challenge as makers often change the formula in an attempt to get around existing definitions of illegal substances.
“New illicit deadly drugs are making their way into our communities and destroying lives,” Bevin said. “We intend to eradicate this epidemic, and this executive order gives our law enforcement officers the immediate support they need to help save lives.”