We all know about the horrors of heroin and the addictive pain-killing drug oxycodone—but what about U-47700?

The Suffolk County Legislature has just passed a measure describing the drug U-47700 as “eight times more potent than morphine” and linked to 50 deaths in the U.S. since December of last year and prohibiting “the sale, possession with the intent to sell and distribution of U-47700 and similar chemicals” in Suffolk.

The author of the bill is Legislator Steve Stern who has been crusading for action on what he terms the “drug epidemic in Suffolk County.”

It was passed unanimously by the legislature on Oct. 5 and has gone to County Executive Steve Bellone for his consideration.

Stern notes that U-47700 was developed as an alternative to morphine but was never marketed when it was determined that it was eight times more potent than morphine.

Nevertheless, the composition of U-47700 and other synthetic opioids, and ways of making them, have become available from information in their patents and articles about them in  scientific journals and are being produced overseas. China is a major source of U-47700

U-47700 is highly addictive and was linked to the death in April of the performer Prince. U-47700 was found in his body along with another opioid, fentanyl.

U-47700 is “particularly lethal,” says Mr. Stern, because it is “resistant” to treatment with Narcan, used to revive drug users who overdose.

It can be smoked, snorted or taken orally and can cause respiratory depression, coma, permanent brain damage and death.

It has been banned in several states of the U.S., among them Georgia, Ohio, Kansas and Wyoming, and, in Europe, prohibited in Sweden.

“We must do everything in our power to protect our young people from synthetic opioids like U-47700 that we know lead to addiction, serious health effects, graduation to heroin and potential death,” said Stern, an attorney from Dix Hills, after the passage of his measure.

The U in U-47700 is for Upjohn, the pharmaceutical manufacturer that developed it. Upjohn was “searching for a novel painkilling drug, the holy grail of analgesics,” says Dr. Barry K. Logan, executive director of the Center for Forensic Scientific Research & Education in Pennsylvania.

Upjohn two decades ago merged with Pharmcia which subsequently merged with Monsanto. Then Monsanto was purchased last month by the German company Bayer in a $66 billion deal. The combined company would be the corporate global giant dominating pesticides, seeds and pharmaceuticals.

For little Suffolk County (relatively) with its population of 1.5 million to take on U-47700, considering it has become a worldwide menace, is something that is not new for the county.

In 2003, for example, Suffolk instituted the first ban in the United States of ephedra, a dietary supplement linked to deaths in the U.S. Then Suffolk Legislator John Cooper of Lloyd Harbor took on ephedra after a 20-year-old man in his legislative district died from ephedra.

It was not easy governmental sledding. Ephedra had its promoters. Cooper said as then County Executive Robert Gaffney signed the measure into law: “The industry lobbyists don’t want people to know this but the simple fact is that ephedra kills. With the signing of law of Suffolk County’s landmark ban, the handwriting is on the wall. The days of ephedra are numbered.”

And they were. The next year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—which through the years has often failed, along with other U.S. regulatory agencies, to move against many poisons—followed Suffolk and banned ephedra nationally. (One of the books I have written focuses on this governmental failure through the years.) The New York Times described the action by the Suffolk Legislature against ephedra as “upholding its reputation for trendsetting.”

U-47700 is a more complex issue because it is one of many synthetic opioid drugs that have been concocted and have been coming into the United States and elsewhere around the world. But Suffolk has begun doing its part.

Stern’s bill opens by bluntly declaring that “the county of Suffolk is in the midst of an opiate addiction crisis.”  As with ephedra, Suffolk’s legislation to ban U-47700 “and similar chemicals” must be adopted and implemented widely.