Houston-area deaths linked to new synthetic drug

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - According to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, a new synthetic opioid has been found in the system of three Houston people who have died. The drug goes by the codename “Pink,” “Pinky” or “U4.”

The first person in the Houston area whose death has been linked to the drug is 29-year-old Andreas Dabis. His parents told Channel 2 Investigates their son died three months shy of his 30th birthday.

“Andreas was a happy, friendly, just easygoing guy,” Judit Dabis, Andreas' mother, said.

Judit Dabis said Andreas worked with his father in the family business, but dreamed of being a disc jockey. One Sunday in March, Andreas didn't show up as planned at his parents' house for a barbecue and a little fence work.

“He didn't respond to my messages,” Tibor Dabis said.

Growing concerned over their son’s lack of response, Tibor Dabis drove to his son’s apartment.

“The door was unlocked and everything inside was kind of running -- the fan, the light, things like this,” Tibor Dabis said.

He then found his son motionless on the floor.

“He didn't move and I basically couldn't revive him,” Tibor Dabis said. “I didn't think it would end like this.”

Judit and Tibor Dabis knew their son struggled to stay away from drugs, but they were stunned to hear his death had been caused by this new drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported nearly 50 people nationwide have lost their lives to the drug.

“Honestly, I consider the people that make and sell this stuff murderers,” Judit Dabis said.

No one is sure why the drug is called Pink. It's a white powder that can also be pressed into pill form and it is not packaged in a unique way. The name first came up while police in Park City, Utah, were investigating the overdose deaths of two teens.

“It's in the same family as heroin, hydrocodone, which is Norco, morphine,” Teresa Gray, chief toxicologist at the Harris County Institute for Forensic Sciences, said.

Gray said the drug produces a euphoric feeling, but can also cause severe respiratory depression.

“So you stop breathing until, essentially, you die,” Gray said. “They mix it with things that it shouldn't be mixed with and that's what causes a fatal intoxication.”

Pink is not some invention cooked up in a bathtub lab. Before it got its street name, the drug went by the more clinical U47700.

“This was actually a case of what we call patent piracy,” Warren Samms, director of toxicology and chemistry at the Institute, said.

Samms said the U in U47700 stands for Upjohn, a pharmaceutical company that created the drug in the late '70s while searching for a more potent painkiller. The drug was never approved for human use and never sold to the public. The patent, however, along with the formula, found its way online and was used to produce the drug overseas.

“It appears to be produced in pharmaceutical-like labs in other countries -- primarily China,” Samms said.

While the drug is produced overseas, it is available for sale online.

Judit and Tibor Dabis said they don't believe Andreas knew what he was being sold. Still, they said, their son's death only reinforces the need for parents to stop their children from taking drugs, however they can, which includes monitoring what they're searching for and buying online.

“We cannot help him anymore, but we hope to save even just one life,”Judit Dabis said. “Doing drugs is something that will not go away. If you notice your child is doing drugs, just take drastic measures.”

In response to the string of deaths this year, the DEA got an emergency order in November to have Pink designated a Schedule I controlled substance, making it illegal.

2016 Click2Houston/KPRC2