HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT)-Today is National Prevention and Awareness Day for fentanyl, a drug so toxic that it’s claimed the lives of people not only right here in the Tri-State area but all across the country.
While law enforcement is on the front lines of this epidemic, chemists are also working to understand the drugs.
All across the country, task forces and agencies are working tirelessly to rid our communities of these drugs.
But what happens after the raid? Where do these fatally toxic drugs go once they are in the hands of law enforcement?
Leah Law, the supervisory chemist at the North Central Lab in Chicago, talked about the process.
“They have to be very diligent that they’re not going to be exposed to whatever they’re working on.”
Downtown Chicago is home to one of many laboratories across the country where evidence is brought after a drug bust. In this case, this lab covers 12 states in the midwestern part of the United States.
Law talked about the process the drugs go through.
“We have a team of evidence specialists that take the evidence once it arrives and verify that it’s consistent with the paperwork, seals are intact.”
From there, the drugs are stored in the lab’s main evidence vault prior to analysis by chemists.
At that point, the chemists will take it into their possession. They have smaller security boxes that they keep the evidence in while they’re doing their analysis.
The pills are often colored similar to a rainbow. A tactic which DEA agents call a marketing talent.
“It makes your heart break that’s exactly what’s happening they’re trying to market so people will think it’s cooler to look at these pills and take and want them.”
Because these drugs didn’t make it onto the street, this is where senior forensic chemist Louis Chavez and his colleagues come in.
“On a day-to-day basis, we’ll analyze the evidence submitted to the laboratory from agents and assist them by providing evidence analysis and telling them what the exhibits contain.”
Daily, these chemists are up against the unknown. Using extreme caution and carefully thought-out safety measures, including lab coats, goggles, gloves, and an N95 mask when necessary, they only conduct work within their stations, which have a ventilated system that helps circulate the air for any of the particles being aerosolized.
Chavez talked about the challenge this presents.
“We don’t know what we’re dealing with, which increases the dangers of what we’re dealing with.”
After the evidence is weighted, qualitative testing begins to really see what’s inside these drugs.
Chavez talked about what the testing process is like.
“When we’re testing, we’re never testing for a specific drug or specific analyte we’re doing a full screen think of it that way. A full screen of any controlled substance that is present in the exhibit that gets submitted.”
Many times, what’s inside includes fentanyl, the very drug that contributes to what DEA assistant special agent Michael Gannon calls an epidemic.
“Without question, fentanyl and carfentanyl are the most dangerous things going on, and we’ve never seen anything like it.”
You hear it all the time: the smallest bit of fentanyl can kill, but visually, it’s incredible to see that just enough to cover Lincoln’s ear on the penny is a fatal dosage.
Gannon talked about how big the problem is.
“So, if you look at what happened in the United States on a national level, there was about 110,000 overdose deaths of that number I think fentanyl was about 82,000. Picture an airline filled with 300 people crashing every single day. That’s what’s happening in our country with drug overdose deaths.”
Breaking that stat down even more, Gannon says in Indiana alone, there were about 2,800 overdose deaths in 2022.
So, agents are asking for you to help be the difference maker.