RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The new North Carolina State Crime Lab is critical in the fight against fentanyl, state leaders said. The drug takes the lives of eight people a day. When a person overdoses, evidence is sent to the lab and scientists examine chemical compounds to identify what drugs are present.
"You could fall out right away at any time," said Katy Schell, forensic scientist manager.
It's a task so dangerous that the new lab has an open concept that allows everyone to keep eyes on each other just in case the sample contains fentanyl. Scientists said it's the second most common drug they identify.
"If something were to happen with an accidental overdose by one of our scientists, we've got Narcan stationed throughout the laboratory that we can administer if needed," said Schell.
State leaders said this new lab will help address what they're calling the most devastating drug crisis in American history.
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According to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina reports a 22% increase in overdose deaths. More than 4,000 people lost their lives in 2021 and 77% of those deaths in the state likely involved fentanyl. Data shows overdose deaths are highest among White people, but they've increased in other ethnic groups -- American Indians top the list with the highest overdose death rate.
"We see gummies, candies, cookies all kinds of stuff," said Schell.
The drug is in items the public least expects. Scientists showed ABC11 tablets that have been manufactured to look like oxycodone. Each pill is a deadly dose of the new reality facing the nation.
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"These tablets have markings that indicate that they should be oxycodone, however, when we analyze them we find they contain fentanyl," said Lyndsay Cone, a forensic scientist.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is lobbying state lawmakers to create a Fentanyl Control Unit because he said the state doesn't have enough resources to handle large-scale trafficking cases.
"We're asking for eight prosecutors. Four would be specifically devoted to doing fentanyl-controlled work," he said.
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