BARRE — Officials say detectable amounts of drugs like fentanyl are now commonly being found in other drugs like crack cocaine and vice versa.
Judge Mary L. Morrissey was presiding over a hearing earlier this week in Washington County criminal court involving someone in drug treatment court. The defendant had recently tested positive for fentanyl, an incredibly strong opiate, though he told the court he was primarily a crack cocaine user. Morrissey noted others in treatment court had also been testing positive for fentanyl despite not being known opiate users, or reported they hadn’t used an opiate and instead had used another drug.
Trisha Conti is the director of the Vermont Forensic Laboratory, where law enforcement sends suspected drugs to be tested. Conti said over the last year her lab has seen more cases where drugs that are tested aren’t coming back as straight cocaine or straight heroin. She said 10 to 15 years ago that wasn’t the case because suspected drugs tested then came back as only containing one drug. Now she said a drug can come back with seven or eight different compounds in it.
“There seems to be quite a bit of crossover,” she said.
Conti said she didn’t know if drugs were being added to other drugs intentionally or if it was a byproduct of sloppy handling and packaging. Law enforcement has said in the past drug dealers these days try to be “one-stop shops” where people can buy cocaine, heroin, marijuana or other drugs.
“It’s not like this is a production laboratory that has cleaning practices, it’s somebody’s kitchen table that they’re working on,” Conti said.
She said when a suspected drug comes to her lab it is analyzed to see all of the compounds it is composed of. Conti said because of time and workload constraints her lab doesn’t test to see how much of a certain compound is in a suspected drug so she couldn’t talk about percentages of fentanyl in suspected crack cocaine. Because of this, she said the lab can’t definitively say a drug was laced with another drug because they don’t know how much it contains. All the lab can report is how much the suspected drug weighs, what it is predominantly made up of and what was detected in it.
Cpt. Kevin Lane, of the Vermont State Police, is the commander of the Special Investigations Unit, which includes the Narcotics Investigation Unit. Lane said this mixing of drugs has become the norm rather than the exception and it isn’t isolated to Vermont. He said it’s something the whole East Coast is dealing with.
Lane said while there may be some accidental co-mixing with drugs, he believes because there is so much mixing, a good amount of it is being done intentionally. He said while a drug user may want to only buy crack cocaine, for example, the dealer may include a little bit of an opiate as a way of getting the user hooked on that drug as well. He said drugs like fentanyl can be cheaper than cocaine so drug dealers may be adding it in to maximize profits.
“That’s part of the danger of using these illegal drugs,” he said.
As for marijuana, Conti said her lab has been keeping an eye on any drugs being added to it because there have been reports of people saying their weed was laced with something like fentanyl. But she said the lab has not confirmed any cases of marijuana being mixed with opiates or any other illicit drugs.