STERLING, Va. — At a glance, the synthetic opioids being tested in a lab here look like many other white, powdered narcotics. These particular drugs, however, are so potent that simply touching them can be fatal.
At the lab, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, chemists are analyzing these drugs and trying to identify them. More and more, they’re discovering new, deadlier varieties of opioids concocted overseas and sold on the street in the US.
As the chemical compositions of these drugs are manipulated, they can become far more powerful. Fentanyl, a common synthetic opioid, is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and many times that of heroin.
When this reporter absentmindedly brought a water bottle into the lab here, a DEA officer pointed out that it could be contaminated; if I drank water with traces of synthetic opioids, the consequences could be dire. The officer told me he didn’t want to have to resort to Narcan, the lifesaving medication that can reverse the effects on opioid overdose.
In this video, we take a look inside this lab and talk to DEA Supervisory Chemist Jill Head about the challenges and dangers of working with such deadly substances.