Channel 9 goes inside DEA lab for behind-the-scenes look at fentanyl crackdown

WASHINGTON — There’s an effort to crack down on fentanyl that’s happening across the Carolinas and the country.

Channel 9′s Dan Matics went inside the Drug Enforcement Administration’s lab to see exactly what agents are up against in getting the deadly drug off our streets.

It’s hard to tell the difference between a normal medication and one laced with fentanyl. What is marketed on the street as oxycodone isn’t from a pharmacy -- it’s totally fake and laced with fentanyl. The DEA found in 2022, 60% of pills like that had enough fentanyl to kill someone.

Chemists in the federal drug lab work around the clock analyzing drugs seized from all over the East Coast -- mainly from Charlotte and Atlanta. They’ve been spending their time working to learn which pills are laced with fentanyl -- a drug 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

“The next time you’re in a restaurant, get a salt shaker, pour out some salt in the palm of your hand. Get rid of everything but five crystals -- that’s the deadly dose of fentanyl,” DEA lab director Herbert Dedeaux told Matics.

When you think of those five grains of salt, that’s also how easy it is for a Mexican cartel “chemist” to mess up.

There has been a massive surge in people buying what they think is Xanax, Oxycodone, or even Adderall on the internet. But those pills are often fake, according to Dedeaux. Instead, they contain cheaper fentanyl. Many of them have deadly doses of the drug.

“Six in 10, so 60% of tablets that we are seeing, actually contain a lethal dose of fentanyl,” Dedeaux said.

Even after putting a fake and real pill side by side, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. That’s where DEA chemists come in.

“How easy is it to tell if it’s a fake Xanax or Oxy from one of the fake ones?” Channel 9′s Dan Matics asked Dedeaux.

“It’s not,” Dedeaux said. “It’s not very easy -- we have trained chemists here and we have to analyze them to determine if they are fake or they are actually real tablets.”

The DEA said Chinese companies are mass producing and shipping chemicals used to make fentanyl to cartels. Dedeaux said because fentanyl is so cheap, cartels mix it with other drugs to make their supply last longer.

“It creates more,” he said. “More bulk, more volume.”

Matics gestured to two bags of tablets.

“How many people could this kill right here?” Matics said.

“The tablets contained in these two bags contain 1,700,000 lethal dosage units,” Dedeaux said.

That’s more than the population of Mecklenburg County.

It affects everyone, from users living on the street, to a college student thinking he or she is getting an Adderall from a friend -- one pill is all it takes to kill.

“A lot of the folks that have died as of late are not drug users,” Dedeaux said. “They are one-time users, buying off the internet.”

(WATCH BELOW: North Carolina sees 22% increase in overdose deaths due to fentanyl, state leaders say)

Dan Matics

Dan Matics, wsoctv.com

Dan is a reporter and anchor for Channel 9.