What is Gray Death?

Last Updated: October 26, 2022

Synthetic opioids are produced to mimic the effects of natural opioids. Substances like fentanyl are cheap, highly potent and toxic. They have fueled a spate of overdose deaths in Ohio and across the country. In 2020, for example, over 56,000 deaths occurred because of these drugs, which is more than any other type of opioid.

In recent years, a mixture of synthetic opioids started appearing on the street called gray death. It can be lethal in small doses, and highly toxic if encountered by accidental contact.

What Is Gray Death?

Gray death is a compound that typically contains several dangerous illicit opioids, including heroinfentanyl and the designer drug U-47700, among other substances. Each batch of gray death can contain different substances in varying amounts. Some batches may contain a synthetic opioid known as carfentanil, which is used to sedate large animals.

Since gray death can contain any number of substances, its use can be dangerous and sometimes fatal. Some highly potent drugs, such as fentanyl, are present in gray death and can cause instant overdose and death even in very small amounts.   

What Does Gray Death Look Like?

Gray death, sometimes also known as ‘Grey Death,’ can be gray or ashen in color and resemble concrete mixing powder. Its texture can range from rock-like chunks to a fine powder. In the past, the drug has been distributed in powder or pill form.  

How Is Gray Death Used?

Like other opioids, people who use gray death can do so through any of these methods:

  • Injection
  • Snorting
  • Smoking
  • Oral consuming

Effects of Gray Death

Similar to other opioids, gray death attaches to opioid receptors in the brain. Once those receptors are activated, it prompts the neurons that produce dopamine, the chemical messenger in the brain that controls pleasure, to fire more frequently. Ultimately, the action results in a cascade of sensations, including feelings of intense euphoria.

Depending on the substances found in each batch of gray death, the risk of negative effects varies. Extremely potent batches may cause a person who is using gray death to quickly stop breathing and die. Potential side effects from gray death resemble the side effects of other opioids.

Gray Death Side Effects

Because no two batches of gray death are alike, its side effects may range from mild to severe. Some of the side effects people who use gray death may experience, include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of conscious
  • Mental fog
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Seizures
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Tremors 

Gray Death Overdose

Potent batches of gray death may lead to overdose even in small doses. Slowed breathing could signal an overdose. It’s important to call 911 immediately if an overdose is suspected. Signs of an overdose from gray death or other opioids include:

  • Extremely pale and/or clammy face
  • Limp body
  • Making gurgling noises
  • Purple or blue colored lips
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Slowed or stopped heartbeat
  • Unable to speak 
  • Unable to be awakened
  • Vomiting

Using Narcan To Reverse Overdose

Narcan, the brand name for naloxone nasal spray, is used to reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone is also available as an injectable medication. For someone who is overdosing, Narcan can restore normal breathing within two to three minutes if breathing has slowed or stopped. 

Due to its sheer potency, someone experiencing overdose from gray death may require multiple doses of Narcan, more than what most police officers, emergency medical technicians and first responders have on hand. In a report, one medical expert stated that five to ten doses are needed for someone in the midst of a gray death overdose.  

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Gray Death in Columbus, OH

Reports of gray death overdoses first began to surface in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Ohio in 2017. A report from that same year stated that the Ohio attorney general’s office gathered and analyzed samples from around the state that matched the ingredients found in the mixture.

In 2021, Ohio State Troopers confiscated approximately $30,000 in drugs, including batches of the synthetic opioid mixture, in a county just south of Columbus.

The presence of gray death in Ohio is cause for significant concern. The state reached its highest total for unintentional drug overdose deaths in 2020. In that same year, fentanyl was responsible for 81% of those overdose deaths, often in combination with other drugs. 

Gray death use remains prevalent in the local area and the risk of overdose from this substance is substantial.

Get Treatment For Opioid Addiction in Ohio

In Ohio, there are a number of available resources for anyone experiencing dependence or addiction to opioids, including gray death.

The Recovery Village Columbus offers comprehensive care and treatment for anyone grappling with opioid dependence or addiction. Treatment plans are tailored to your individual needs, address symptoms of withdrawal, and include evidence-based therapies that effectively address opioid dependence. Intake coordinators are available to take your call. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction or are using gray death, The Recovery Village Columbus is here to help. To learn more about available treatment options,  contact us today.


Associated Press. “Dangerous Opioid Combo “Gray Death” […] Latest Mixing Trend.” VOA, May 4, 2017. Accessed July 23, 2022.

Bowers, J. “Troopers in Pickaway County seize “gre[…]wder,” other drugs.” NBC4 WCMH-TV, June 2, 2021. Accessed July 24, 2022.

Brito, C. “Gray death” is a drug so dangerous, po[…]dn’t even touch it.” CBS News, February 7, 2020. Accessed July 29, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Lifesaving Naloxone.” February 23, 2022. Accessed July 24, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Synthetic Opioid Overdose Data | Drug Ov[…] | CDC Injury Center.” June 6, 2020. Accessed July 24, 2022.

Cleveland Clinic. “Opioids: What They Are, Side Effects & Disorders.” Accessed July 22, 2022.
Drugs.com. “Gray Death.” February 18, 2020. Accessed July 21, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Fentanyl DrugFacts.” June 30, 2021. Accessed July 29, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Gulf Coast HIDTA and the Georgia Bureau […] Investigation Issue.” May 16, 2017. Accessed July 29, 2022.

Ohio Department of Health. “Drug Overdose.” Accessed July 24, 2022.

Ryckaert, V., & Rudavsky, S. “Gray death: It’s 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.” The Indianapolis Star, May 24, 2017. Accessed July 22, 2022.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opioid intoxication.” MedlinePlus, May 17, 2021. Accessed August 14, 2022.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opioid Overdose.” MedlinePlus, February 27, 2019. Accessed August 14, 2022.

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