It was developed as a powerful painkiller to help surgery patients. But now fentanyl is fueling an overdose crisis. 7’s Kevin Ozebek got rare access inside the Drug Enforcement Administration as it cracks down on the deadliest drug in America. Here’s tonight’s 7 Investigates.

With thick goggles, a heavy mask and his hands covered, Chad Chumbley is working with one of the most dangerous drugs.

Chad Chumbley, Senior DEA Chemist: “So fentanyl can absorb through the skin.”

Chad is a senior chemist inside this Drug Enforcement Administration lab in West Miami-Dade.

Here, 25 chemists analyze all the drugs agents have seized in Florida, four other southern states and the Caribbean.

And they’re finding more and more drugs laced with fentanyl — a deadly danger to those who buy painkillers off the black market.

Kevin Ozebek: “So we’re looking at 10,000 potentially lethal doses just in that one bag?”

Chad Chumbley: “Potentially, yes.”

Florida’s Attorney General says in just the past few months, enough fentanyl was seized in the state to kill every Floridian.

And this summer alone, DEA agents confiscated 10.2 million fentanyl pills and 980 pounds of fentanyl powder.

Mark Skeffington, Deputy Special Agent DEA Miami Field Office: “This is our number one drug threat. This is our number one priority.”

Deputy special agent Mark Skeffington says the DEA has shifted resources to tackle the surge in fentanyl.

Overdose deaths are skyrocketing.

In the first half of last year, fentanyl killed 268 people in Miami-Dade and an astounding 553 in Broward.

Mark Skeffington, Deputy Special Agent DEA Miami Field Office: “This is a very deadly substance. It’s more lethal than anything I’ve seen in my career.”

And this is why it’s so lethal the Mexican cartels that traffic fentanyl into the U.S. often disguise it.

On the left are real oxycodone pills.

On the right are “fake” pills containing fentanyl.

Alexandra Gongora, Supervisory DEA Chemist: “What we see is that the pills have no discernible difference between those you can obtain at a pharmacy and those that would be on the street that could potentially have fentanyl in them.”

Mark Skeffington, Deputy Special Agent DEA Miami Field Office: “Lifelong DEA people can’t tell the difference between a fake pill and a real one.”

That’s why the pills end up in this South Florida lab and get tested by chemists like Chad.

Alarmingly, about 40% of the fentanyl pills seized by the DEA now contain a potentially deadly dose.

Kevin Ozebek: “Can you tell me how much fentanyl is in those blue and multicolor pills?”

Chad Chumbley: “So, I saw in my analysis that there were over two milligrams in them.”

And it only takes two milligrams for a pill to be possibly lethal. That tiny amount of fentanyl can fit on the tip of this pencil.

It would look like 15 grains of salt.

Mark Skeffington, Deputy Special Agent DEA Miami Field Office: “No pill that you buy on the street or that you buy on social media is safe. The only pill that is safe to use is one that’s prescribed directly from your doctor.”

That is now the main message from the DEA as agents find fentanyl smuggled in things like toy boxes and bags of candy, and as chemists work right here on one of the front lines of the fentanyl crisis.

Kevin Ozebek, 7News.

Since more drug dealing is now done on social media, the DEA has made a special guide for parents.


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