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DEA chemists risk their lives testing dangerous fentanyl-laced drugs

The Drug Enforcement Administration recently gave WUSA9 an inside look at its Maryland lab, where thousands of dangerous drugs are tested each year.

LARGO, Md. — The Drug Enforcement Administration is warning of an increase in fentanyl overdoses. Officials say the problem with the dangerous drug is not only nationwide, but also here in the DMV. 

At the DEA's lab in Maryland, chemists test about 10,000 drug exhibits a year, seized from federal law enforcement agencies in nine different states.  

Rashida Weathers is a 25-year veteran with the Drug Enforcement Administration. She is also the current Lab Director at the Maryland facility. According to Weathers, over the last several years the testing protocols at the lab have changed dramatically due to the increase in fentanyl. 

"We assume any drug exhibit that comes in contains fentanyl because we're seeing it in everything," Weathers said. 

Whenever a chemist is testing any drug, they must wear gloves, a lab coat, goggles and an air-purifying respirator. The drugs are examined under a vented hood that sucks away dangerous air. Narcan, the nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose, is stationed at every chemist's workspace. 

"All of our chemists are putting their lives at risk everyday to analyze the drugs that come into the lab. For me as a manger, my main goal is to make sure everyone goes home alive and unharmed every night," Weathers told WUSA9. 

Credit: WUSA9

Fentanyl is a dangerous synthetic drug that experts say is 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin. Exposure to even the smallest amount of fentanyl is enough to be a lethal dose. According to officials, two milligrams, about the size of the point of a pencil is enough to kill someone. 

"One kilogram of fentanyl is capable of killing half a million people This is dangerous, serious stuff and is leading to about 75 percent of overdoses and fatalities we are seeing," Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Washington Bureau, said. 

That was proven in April of this year when 10 people died in a three-day span in the district. A bad batch of cocaine, laced with fentanyl was to blame, according to DC Police. 

RELATED: Police: 10 overdose deaths in 3 days from drugs laced with fentanyl

That same month, two teens in Prince William County, Virginia died after police say they took pills unknowingly laced with fentanyl.  In a separate case weeks later, Prince William County police seized several guns and more than 5,000 suspected counterfeit fentanyl-laced Percocet pills. Four men were arrested and charged. 

Credit: Prince William County Police

RELATED: Arrest made in teen overdose death, Prince William County Police say

Law enforcement officials are pleading with parents to have serious conversations with their kids about this dangerous drug. Especially because they can be sold easily on social media, using sites like Snapchat and Instagram. 

Credit: DEA

RELATED: 'The next dose could be the one that kills you' | DEA offers grim warning about new dangerous drug in DC region

RELATED: No, briefly being exposed to fentanyl cannot cause an overdose, medical experts say

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