DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - The state's top law enforcement agency now has a new tool to protect them from dangerous synthetic drugs.
Workers installed a new vent hood inside a Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab Thursday. The equipment has its own air filtration system and is designed to keep fumes and particulates from escaping into the air of the building.
"This was prompted by one case in particular that had furanylfentanyl in it and it really made us realize we've got to have a setup to handle these powders that may be in the air and harmful to all of us," explained Deneen Kilcrease, the GBI's chemistry section manager.
Fentanyl is a transdermal drug, meaning it can be absorbed through the skin. In many cases, it is so powerful that interacting with just a small amount of the drug can prove fatal.
"It's definitely been shown that the fentanyl drug class is very dangerous if it's inhaled or touched and especially with some of the analogues that we really don't know that much about, we do want to err on the side of caution because we just simply don't know how dangerous they are," said Kilcrease.
The vent hood cost about $20,000.
"For me, it doesn't matter what the cost is," Kilcrease said. "It's the safety of the people that's important."
New statistics from the GBI show that the synthetic opioid problem only seems to be getting worse. Fentanyl and its derivatives have been linked to a larger number of overdose deaths in Georgia than heroin.
In 2013, the GBI handled 467 opioid overdose death cases. Of those, 32 were caused by heroin use and 47 were related to fetanyl. That number rose to 534 opioid overdose cases in 2016, with 68 linked to heroin and 110 to fentanyl.