Sources said there is a “real worry” that the drug, U47700, “might be widespread” across Cork City.
A 16-year-old who was arrested in the wake of the discovery of Michael Cornacchia’s body in the Deermount area of the city on Monday was released without charge on Wednesday.
While he is being investigated in relation to the immediate supply of the drug to Michael, also aged 16, he is not the person gardaí urgently want to find.
“The 16-year-old is not the source of interest,” said a garda. “It’s the person behind him we need to get.”
He said there is a fear that the prevalence of U47700 is not isolated to Monday’s tragedy and that the synthetic opiate “might be widespread” across the city.
He said it could be “farther afield”, adding: “It is being watched very carefully. It could appear any minute.”
He said: “There is a real worry here. People think they are taking cocaine but this stuff is in it and the smallest amount of it can kill you.”
He said they need to identify who the supplier is and locate his stock and supplies.
Cork has had numerous tragedies from new psychoactive drugs in recent years, including the death of 18-year-old Alex Ryan in January 2016 from 251-NBOMe, a synthetic hallucinogenic, and the deaths of Michael Coleman and Liam Coffey, both aged 22, in Kinsale in September 2012 from PMMA, a synthetic amphetamine.
A rapid garda response in the 2012 tragedy led to large quantities of PMMA removed from circulation.
“They identified the main guy,” said the source. “He told them where it was, it was isolated and taken out. I believe we will get to the bottom of this [current] case.”
Gardaí have not come across U47700 before and are not clear how the drug emerged.
“Could it be a local dealer who ordered a couple of ounces of it off the Dark Net and mixed it with cocaine and sold, it or is it a situation where it is being mixed in the Netherlands and sold as cocaine?” said the source.
He pointed out that while the former scenario is possibly the more likely one, the latter is also a possibility — and one that would pose a worse threat.
“That means an outside and much bigger distributor is supplying it into the country, making it far, far more difficult to track and stop,” he said.
He said it is a terrible tragedy for Michael’s family: “It’s very sad. By all accounts, he was a decent young fella. He just took a small amount of it, but that’s enough.”
Sources are confused why an opiate such as U47700 turned up in cocaine, which is a stimulant, rather than heroin, which is also an opiate.
However, they point to a similar trend last August, when fentanyl, also a powerful synthetic opiate, was mixed with other drugs, including cocaine.
In the first case, three men were in intensive care after snorting cocaine containing fentanyl in Tallaght, Dublin, and barely survived.
A week later, fentanyl was found in a 1kg batch of so-called ‘bash’ (paracetamol and caffeine) which was seized in north Dublin.
Five people — three in Dublin and two in Cork — died after taking fentanyl, in most cases sold as heroin, between April and July last year — the first fentanyl deaths in the country.