Sweet surprise: Lab tests reveal all 13 pounds of white powder is sugar, not dangerous drug fentanyl

Sweet surprise: Lab tests reveal all 13 pounds of white powder is sugar, not dangerous drug fentanyl
Published: Aug. 28, 2018 at 3:28 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2018 at 7:01 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Private lab tests have discovered that all 13 pounds of a white powdery substance seized by the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office are sugar and not fentanyl, as was previously believed.

The private lab testing results by NMS labs, which came in last week, revealed the white powder is actually "a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates," said Lt. Jerry Brewer. In other words, sugars.

There were no controlled or non-controlled substances mixed in with the 13 pounds of white powder, according to information provided by Brewer.

The false positive result can be traced to a CSI field test using a kit invented and sold by Scott Company Drug Testing to the NHC Sheriff's Office, according to Brewer. It was not user error on the part of the CSI technician, because several samples were tested from each bag, said Brewer.

The major drug bust of fentanyl in July was billed as "one of the largest seizures in the state" by Sheriff Ed McMahon. After the initial field test came back positive for fentanyl, the sheriff then sent the substance to the state lab for confirmatory testing.

But one week later when the state lab found that the 13 pounds of white powder was not fentanyl and could not identify it, the sheriff's office realized there was a problem.

The sheriff's office then decided to send all pending and future fentanyl testing to the state lab, instead of conducting field tests by the local CSI team. The fentanyl-related charges were also dropped for the suspects in the July bust. And the sheriff's department sent samples of the then-unknown white powder to a private lab for identification testing.

The fentanyl field test kit used by the local CSI can falsely identify sugar as fentanyl, according to Brewer.

According to the company's website, Scott Company Drug Testing sells kits only to law enforcement, including tests for cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA, bath salts, and more.

For fentanyl testing, the company's website lists Synthetic Opiates Reagent, which is "used to detect the presence of Opiates & Synthetic Opiates, including Codeine, Heroin / Morphine, and  Fentanyl / Oxycodone."

"Our tests have never been successfully attacked in court, nor has the failure of our product ever been established as the cause of a case to be lost or compromised," the company's website said in a website FAQ page.

WECT reached out to Scott Company Drug Testing. Ian Scott and the company's legal council prepared a four-page press release, which is included in full at the bottom of the article.

Ian Scott said the case described in this article is the first time the company has heard about a sugar resulting in a false positive in their synthetic opioid kit.

"Under certain circumstances, sugar substances can mimic a false positive result," said Scott. "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."

In the press release, the company explained that their test kits are "presumptive tests," meaning they will undergo a chemical reaction to quickly determine if a substance, like fentanyl, if present. But a confirmatory test using methods like gas chromatography/mass spectrometry should be conducted before final charges are brought upon a suspect, the press release said.

"While presumptive testing is extremely reliable, faster, and less expensive than other methods of testing, it is possible (though unlikely) to receive a false positive result under certain conditions, when certain substances are introduced into the presumptive test," according to the press relase. "We strongly advise the individual officer and appropriate agencies to use common sense and evaluate the totality of the circumstances before making an arrest."

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