What is U-4? An Examination of a New Deadly Drug Being Found in Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  On Monday, police charged an Ames woman with involuntary manslaughter connected to the overdose death of her girlfriend.

Sadie Dalgliesh is accused of supplying her with the synthetic opioid called U-4. While more prevalent on the coasts, U-4--known by it's street name “pink”--was found in five overdose victims in 2016.  So far this year, that number is already up to four.

“We know that it’s in Iowa and it appears that its prevalence is increasing based on the limited indicators we see,” said Dale Woolery, Associate Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

The drug acts like a more potent version of heroin or Fentanyl, but because it is produced synthetically, it can be made with a number of dangerous additives. Woolery says the drug is mainly manufactured in unregulated Chinese labs, and only recently has become the subject of talks.

“Internationally, our country has been talking with China as I understand it, and China has agreed to start regulating some of these synthetic opioid products heretofore unregulated in China, and the hope is that will begin to stop the flow of these synthetic opioids,” Said Woolery.

Until then, the drug can be purchased online for about $30 a gram.  It's more potent than heroin and is often used to cut more expensive organic drugs, leading unsuspecting users to overdose.

“You start playing with opioids, you’re playing with fire anyway, but when you start messing with the synthetic stuff you have no idea what you’re getting into. So, if the overdose from the drug doesn’t kill you, the garbage that they make it with could” said Des Moines Police Spokesman Paul Parizek.

Des Moines police say they haven't seen any cases of U-4 in the metro, but say it's only a matter of time.  Ames police have already seen it.

“We’ve actually put out information to our officers that they should be wearing gloves whenever they’re doing searches now because some of this stuff is so bad that just contact with your skin can cause a reaction,” said Geoff Huff of the Ames Police Department.

Police say while talks with China on regulating its manufacturing is a good step, the best way to stop it starts at home.

“We’re really hoping that parents pay attention. It’s here, we’ve got 36,000 students at Iowa State that come here from all over, they’re the kind of people that this is specifically targeted at."

Authorities say synthetic drugs are difficult to police because the people making them change recipes all the time to slip through cracks in the law. In fact, because it was so new, U-4 was only made illegal in Iowa this past legislative session.