BILLINGS – Drug cases involving fentanyl are increasing at the Montana state crime lab in Billings and chemists say it's their job to make sure investigators know what kinds of drugs they’re working with.
And sometimes those pills contain some bizarre ingredients — things that even make the chemists themselves left with questions.
Many times, officials say, they see other street drugs, and in many instances drugs used by veterinarians to subdue very large animals.
So far in 2022, 20% of cases received into the lab contain fentanyl, according to Misty Icard, a chemistry supervisor with the Forensic Science Division.
Icard says the lab will likely analyze close to 600 cases by the end of the year, compared to just 200 in 2021.
“It seems to be in a lot of different places that we didn’t use to see it,” said Forensic Chemist Josh Williams.
He says the evidence they see coming into the lab contains more and more fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is making up more and more of the evidence we see,” he said. “We are finding it more often in large submissions of tablets and small submissions of tablets.”
Those submissions are coming into the lab from investigators working within the branches of the Montana Department of Justice.
“It's distressing,” said Williams.
But the distressing part isn’t just how many cases are now coming in, but also the unpredictable things drug makers are mixing into these pills.
“Medicines that are used by veterinarians, some of what we see are other street drugs,” said Williams.
So chemists are tasked to find out what exactly is in those pills, some of it even surprising officials themselves.
“Sometimes it makes you scratch your head, like, 'oh, well that’s different'," said Icard.
“I run tests to see if it's there, and if it isn’t there, I run tests to rule it out,” said Williams.
Those with the crime lab also say they’ve seen cases of the very deadly and potent carfentanil coming into the lab.
In 2017 they saw two cases of the synthetic opioid, which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine.