Designer Drugs

In an effort to avoid federal regulations, chemists in clandestine laboratories adopted the strategy of synthesizing analogues of controlled substances. Although these drugs are technically not illegal until scheduled, the consequences of their abuse are unpredictable and in some instances lethal. Efforts to make synthetic heroin led to the synthesis of at least six chemicals that are structurally similar to fentanyl. These agents gained considerable attention because their increased potency over fentanyl and heroin led to a rash of overdoses and numerous deaths. The two derivatives are referred to as China White and are 900 and 1,100 times as potent as morphine. Meperidine has also been used as a template for preparing synthetic heroin, the end product being 1 -methyl-4-propionoxy-4-phenylpi-peridine (MPPP). However, MPPP is sometimes contaminated with the side reaction product 1-methyl,4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetra-hydropyridine (MPTP), which produces a parkinsonian syndrome through nigrostriatal lesions. Several substituted derivatives of amphetamine have also been called designer drugs. The most widely known of this group is the hallucinogen MDMA (ecstasy).

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