HSE issues health warning about deadly drug being sold as cocaine

Gardaí believe Cork teenager died after taking synthetic opioid called U-47700

The HSE has issued a warning to all drug users about U-47700  being sold in the form of white powder as cocaine in Co Cork. Photograph: Getty Images

The HSE has issued a warning to all drug users about U-47700 being sold in the form of white powder as cocaine in Co Cork. Photograph: Getty Images


The HSE has issued a public health warning about a new synthetic drug which gardaí believe was responsible for the death of a 16-year-old boy in Cork city earlier this week.

Gardaí believe that Michael Cornacchia died as a result of taking a synthetic opioid called U-47700 after traces of the drug were found in the boy’s home at Deermount in Deerpark in Cork city.

On Tuesday night the HSE issued a warning to all drug users about U-47700 which it said may be in circulation in Cork and being sold in the form of white powder as cocaine.

“All drug users are advised that there is no guarantee that the drug you think you are buying and consuming is in fact the drug you are sold,” the HSE said in its statement.

“We are aware that substances sold as cocaine may in fact contain other substances such as synthetic opioids. There is no way of telling what is in a powder or pill just by looking at it.

“It may look like the drug you want to purchase but it may well be something else.There is no quality control on illegal drugs.

“There can be problems with purity and contaminants in all illegal drugs.”

Psychological side effects

The HSE said that it was always better not to take unknown or illicit drugs at all due to unwanted and serious medical and psychological side effects but people need to be careful if they do take drugs.

It advised those taking drugs never to mix their drugs with alcohol or other drugs – legal or illegal - as they can all interact dangerously with each other.

The HSE also advised those taking drugs that it was less risky to take a smaller amount of a substance when they are unsure of its source.

“Always have a friend with you who can call the emergency services for help if you get into difficulty and call for help as soon as possible.”

The HSE warning came as gardaí arrested a teenager for questioning in relation to the supply of psychoactive substances as part of their investigation into the death of Mr Cornacchia.

The teenager was being questioned last night at the Bridewell Garda Station about the psychoactive substance after gardaí began tracing where Mr Cornacchia may have obtained U-47700.

Mr Cornacchia was found unconscious by his mother in his bedroom at their home at Deermount at about 10.30am on Monday.

He was pronounced dead at the scene by a local doctor and his body was removed to Cork University Hospital for a post-mortem.


It is understood Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster has to wait for the results of toxicology tests before being able to confirm the cause of death.

However gardaí who carried out a search of the house found traces of a white powder which was sent to the Forensic Science Lab for analysis.

The tests confirmed that the powder was a synthetic drug called U-47700 which has already been blamed for dozen deaths in the US including that of singer, Prince in a cocktail of drugs last year.

If it emerges from the toxicology tests that Mr Cornacchia died from taking U-47700, it will be the first case of someone in Ireland dying as a result of taking the synthetic opioid.

Last November the US Drug Enforcement Agency added U-47700 to its list of Schedule One list of drugs that has a high potential for abuse and no current medical use after dozens of deaths.

Several US states including Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Oregon have all moved to ban the drug which was first developed by pharmaceutical giant, Upjohn as a synthetic alternative to morphine.

The drug, which was developed in 1976 by chemist Jacob Szmuszkovicz for Upjohn, was tested on animals and found to be more potent than morphine but with supposedly less addictive potential.

The drug was intended to treat severe pain associated with cancer, surgery, or injury, but was never tested on humans and never produced commercially and ended up being relegated to research.

However Mr Szmuszkovicz’s patent remained publicly available with detailed instructions on how to make U-47700 – leading drug labs in China and elsewhere to make and sell batches of the opioid.