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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Says Gas Used Was Opiate

MTA couple bringing flowers Monday to a memorial near the theater where scores died.
The mysterious gas that was used to subdue the hostage-takers but also killed 116 of their captives was an opiate, a chemical related to morphine, the U.S. Embassy said Monday.

Such substances dull or kill the senses but can also cause coma and death by shutting down breathing and circulation.

"A Western embassy in Moscow had their physician examine surviving hostages, and they concluded that the agent they were exposed to appears consistent with an opiate rather than a nerve agent," a U.S. Embassy spokesman said late Monday night.

The said the embassy had asked the Russian authorities for information about the gas and received some preliminary information about its effects Monday.

"But they didn't confirm the name of the agent," he said.

He statement dovetailed with accounts by doctors and hostages.

Ambulance teams picking hostages up at the theater were ordered to inject hostages with Naloxone, a powerful medicine used to treat patients who overdose on opium derivatives such as morphine and heroine, NTV television reported Monday.

A number of hostages complained about experiencing a loss of motor coordination, memory loss, fainting, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting -- symptoms similar to those in an opiate overdose.

In Germany, a doctor treating two former hostages said doctors would try to determine the type of gas through blood and urine tests.

"It remains a puzzle," Dr. Thomas Zilker, a toxicology professor at Munich University Clinic, told The Associated Press.

He said the substance could have been a secret gas developed by Russia.

A source in the elite Alpha commando unit that stormed the theater said the gas "was not military or poison, but sleep-inducing," Interfax reported.

The source said two commandos had been hospitalized for gas poisoning, along with hundreds of hostages.

Viktor Fominykh, the chief anesthesiologist at the Presidential Administration Medical Center, said the gas was a substance used for general anesthesia.

He said people subjected to the substance would need to undergo physical and psychological rehabilitation.

A London-based security expert said the gas might have been BZ, a incapacitating opiate-based chemical developed by the military, Reuters reported. Russian media said the substance might have been derived from Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that is present in BZ.

Fentanyl was produced by a Belgian pharmaceutical company in 1968 as a general anesthetic that also deadens pain. The drug is 50 times more potent than heroine and known to abruptly paralyze the respiratory system.

Moscow's head doctor, Andrei Seltsovsky, said Sunday that all 763 hostages were still alive after the one hour and 35 minutes it took to evacuate the theater. Many, however, were unconscious, he said.

"The ambulances evacuated everyone alive. The problems appeared later," he said.

Seltsovsky did not explain why the death toll jumped to 116.

Jonathan Tucker, a Senior fellow with the United States Institute of Peace and a chemical warfare non-proliferation expert, said the tragic consequences of the gas could land Russia in trouble with the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors the compliance by signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Under the convention, signatories are allowed to have chemical riot control agents "which can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of the exposure."

"But the treaty appears to ban the chemicals that have more persistent effects lasting for hours or days," Tucker said. "It's a subtle distinction, but I think it is a violation of the convention."

Russia ratified the convention in 1997.

Officials at the Netherlands-based Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were waiting Monday for an explanation about the agent used in the storming, organization spokesman Peter Kaiser said by telephone.