13 pounds of ‘fentanyl’ seized in raid is just sugar, lab finds

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
13 Pounds Of ‘Fentanyl’ Seized In Raid Is Just Sugar, Lab Finds

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The suspected fentanyl that North Carolina sheriff’s deputies said in July amounted to one of the largest busts of the drug in the state turned out to be harmless, but maybe a touch of the substance can sweeten investigators’ bitter disappointment.

What detectives with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office thought was the highly deadly opioid turned out to be something far less sinister – sugar, according to WECT in Wilmington. The 13 pounds of white powder drug agents seized in their high-profile bust, which they said would have been worth more than $2 million on the street, retails for about $8 at the nearest supermarket.

At the time of the July bust, New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon was billing it as “one of the largest seizures (of fentanyl) in the state.” Investigators said other drugs, including heroin and marijuana, were found in the bust, along with drug paraphernalia, the news station reported.

In this photo released July 13, 2018, by the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, 13 pounds of a substance believed to be fentanyl is shown. Lab tests have since shown that what detectives thought was the highly deadly opioid was actually nothing but sugar.
Caption
In this photo released July 13, 2018, by the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, 13 pounds of a substance believed to be fentanyl is shown. Lab tests have since shown that what detectives thought was the highly deadly opioid was actually nothing but sugar.

Credit: New Hanover County Sheriff's Office

Credit: New Hanover County Sheriff's Office

Three people were subsequently arrested on a number of drug charges. One of those defendants, Charles Batts, spoke to WWAY in Leland from behind bars the week after his arrest, when tests on the substance first began to show something was awry.

"If you can't tell flour from a drug, something ain't right," Batts told a reporter through a glass partition.

McMahon told WWAY at the time that the department's crime scene investigators will "garb up" and take anything they suspect to be fentanyl, which can even be dangerous via contact with skin, and take it back to the lab for a field test. That field test indicated the substance was fentanyl, McMahon said.

A rushed analysis at the state lab showed the powder was not fentanyl, but technicians could not tell what it was. Testing done at a private lab revealed the white powder to be a "combination of simple and complex carbohydrates," Lt. Jerry Brewer told WECT.

The substance was pure sugar, with no drugs, either controlled or non-controlled, mixed in, Brewer said.

The lieutenant told the news station that the false positive was traced to a field kit sold to the Sheriff's Office by the Scott Company Drug Testing. Company officials issued a news release in which Ian Scott, legal and compliance officer for the company, said the New Hanover County case is the first in which sugar has resulted in a false positive.

Further testing since then has shown it is possible.

"Under certain circumstances, sugar substances can mimic a false positive result," Scott said, according to WECT. "This is something we discovered after this case. We will be incorporating this into our training program to make sure this doesn't happen again."

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Scott explained in the release, which was obtained by the news station, that the company's testing kits are "presumptive" tests, meaning that they will undergo a chemical reaction if a substance is present. To ensure accuracy prior to filing charges against a suspect, however, more tests should be done in a local or state crime lab to confirm the results.

"We strongly advise the individual officer and appropriate agencies to use common sense and evaluate the totality of the circumstances before making an arrest," the news release said.

The fentanyl-related charges against Batts and his two co-defendants were dropped, WECT reported.