Home Interviews THMG085 – Fentanyl, Part II: Interview with Brian Escamilla

THMG085 – Fentanyl, Part II: Interview with Brian Escamilla


In part two of this three-part series, we discuss fentanyl with Brian Escamilla.

Complete Show Notes

1:30 Background on Brian Escamilla

  • Provides training for law enforcement and hazmat regarding OSHA regulations for entering clandestine labs – he’s done this since 2002
  • Also does a lot of narcotics training and expert witness testimony pertaining to narcotics cases
  • Forensic chemist by training with degrees in biology and chemistry
  • Also knowledgeable in WMDs, explosives, toxins, and much more
  • Consultant for a private company (NES) that originally put together a DEA clan lab program back in 1987 – they still teach this program for the DEA
  • Since then, they’ve expanded to working with the National Guard and other local law enforcement agencies
  • They also do advanced training for PPC labs, ecstasy labs, and other specialty situations – what to sample, what to look for, what to monitor for, etc.
  • Spent 19 years in the lab primarily dealing with crime scenes and drug labs – he’s synthesized PCP, ecstasy, meth, and more
  • He’s done a lot of research on how people make drugs to better testify as an expert witness and to help first responders know what to look for

4:30 What is Fentanyl?

  • Medicinally-speaking, it’s one of the most potent opioids out there
  • A lot of other drugs have been developed that use fentanyl as a base (like carfentanyl) – 1,400 compounds can be made using fentanyl as a backbone
  • New compounds that the Chinese continue to make are often more potent than fentanyl itself – this is dangerous because they’ve never been tested on humans until now
  • Provides users with a euphoric effect – binds to receptors along the spine to affect heart rates, breathing rates, etc.
  • Typical lethal dose is only 2 milligrams – can be even less if you’re dealing with another compound like carfentanyl
  • Originally developed as a pain management option for individuals who needed something beyond oxycontin or hydrocodone – also used at the back end of a cocktail in case people came out of anesthesia too early
  • Testing on fentanyl analogs is highly controlled and monitored in the U.S., but this isn’t true in places like China
  • Carfentanyl is a banned chemical weapons substance – can be used to kill large numbers of people via inhalation and transdermal absorption – responders won’t have enough naloxone on them
  • Chinese sell carfentanyl for less than $3,000 per kilo – you can buy it easily on the dark web

11:30 Fentanyl and Carfentanyl

  • Lethal dose of carfentanyl is around 19 micrograms – this is only an estimate because it’s never legally been tested on humans
  • It’s only been used as a tranquilizer when taking down large game – a 10-milligram dose can take down an elephant, but it would kill a bear
  • Dealers and amateur chemists can’t cut carfentanyl to the proper level, which is why people are dying of overdoses

12:55 Forms of Fentanyl

  • Restrictions on obtaining tabbing machines in the U.S. – these aren’t in place in Canada
  • Carfentanyl goes into Canada to be pressed into tablets
  • Local stuff often goes into capsules that are distributed in little bags
  • Some people are smuggling tabbing machines into the U.S. under false declarations
  • Mixed with a variety of other components before being pressed – also includes powders and lubricants to aid the smooth operation of the tabbing machines
  • Amateur chemists have to use liquid dilution – impossible to cut powders and solids in a home lab

15:25 Why is Fentanyl So Popular?

  • The Chinese have been sending synthetics to the U.S. for the last 10 years – focused primarily on stimulants and hallucinogenic drugs
  • They jumped in with both feet when it came to fentanyl because it was a completely new market for them
  • Huge profit margins with fentanyl because a little goes a long way – dealers can buy raw materials for small sums, press them into pills, and sell them on the streets for way more than what they paid
  • We’re not seeing this kind of profit margin with any other drugs right now, which is a huge reason for why fentanyl is so popular
  • NPP is also pretty easy to get in the U.S. – now labeled a Schedule I drug by the DEA
  • ANPP (which you also need along the way) is also pretty easy to get – labeled a Schedule II drug by the DEA

23:15 Fentanyl and the First Responder

  • We don’t know which stage in the process we’re walking into or how long they’ve been cooking
  • We also don’t know which areas are contaminated
  • Wear your Level A anytime you’re dealing with something related to fentanyl synthesis
  • Our sensors know there’s something bad going on, but they can’t really identify specific substances

24:25 Metering and Fentanyl

  • The standard meters we carry aren’t going to pick up on the drug itself – instead, you’ll pick up on the reagents like aniline
  • Your PID can pick up solvents used in the manufacturing process
  • Raman and FTIR devices can identify the product – they should have fentanyl in their libraries, but they may not have NPP and ANPP yet
  • Airborne fentanyl can usually be picked up with an 11.7 PID
  • You have to do a solvent extraction (usually methylene chloride) to clean up and isolate fentanyl – some of its byproducts aren’t soluble, though
  • GCMS is your best option because they can pick up on 1% fentanyl, which is a must because it’s very cut up by the time it reaches the street- mass spec units can separate a sample down into its component parts

28:15 Why Should You Wear Your Level A?

  • OSHA mandates a minimum of Level B when you’re going into unknown situations
  • You’ll usually have on a Level B when you go into clan labs, but should upgrade to Level A if you know there’s fentanyl present
  • Big risk of your equipment being exposed when you’re in Level A – plus, other people might touch the suit later and get dosed
  • You’re dealing with a banned chemical weapons agent (masked as a narcotic) – always think of fentanyl labs like you would ricin or sarin labs and take extra precautions
  • Consider wearing an extra internal hood or another set of gloves to accompany your Level A gloves
  • Ventilation is tricky because you don’t want to blow the fentanyl powder everywhere
  • Powder is everywhere in pill mills, so it’s hard for us to know which areas are hot – could be binders or could be fentanyl and carfentanyl

31:50 Fentanyl Decontamination

  • Sprays exist that claim to neutralize fentanyl and carfentanyl within 3-5 minutes contact, but there’s no way to know if this is true without testing it
  • You can also use certain strong oxidizers to break down fentanyl, but there’s a chance they could degrade or otherwise damage the suit
  • We have to think about whether the components fentanyl breaks down into are toxic
  • Also consider the environmental implications of using strong oxidizers and what happens when they hit the ground

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