SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (KABC) --In an Eyewitness News exclusive, ABC7 investigates how fentanyl, a prescription painkiller, has turned into a deadly cocktail being sold on Los Angeles streets.
The white powder packed in a baggie isn't what it appears to be - it's actually far more dangerous. Testing at a Los Angeles Police Department crime lab revealed it's a drug mixture cut with fentanyl.
The synthetic opioid, often prescribed by doctors as a pain reliever in the form of a patch, is skyrocketing in the illicit drug market.
"The narcotic high from fentanyl is a sense of euphoria. It depresses the central nervous system," said Doreen Hudson, commanding officer of the forensic science division for the LAPD.
So how did a prescription painkiller turn into a deadly street drug? Law enforcement officials said they're tracking increased imports coming from China and Mexico.
Just a week ago, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol made a bust off the 5 Freeway in San Clemente. More than 80 bundles of narcotics were seized, and more than 52 pounds of that bust was fentanyl.
"The actual prescribed dosage of fentanyl, if you were trying to visualize it in a medical dosage, would be about the size of two grains of salt - that small," Hudson added.
The LAPD is so concerned, it's warning officers to avoid any contact with narcotics that could contain fentanyl. In its powder form, it can be easily inhaled or absorbed just by touching it.
A nasal mist antidote, just made available to LAPD officers, is a line of defense for those who are at risk of exposure themselves.
Cary Quashen runs Action Family Counseling, a drug rehab center in Santa Clarita. He described the increase in fentanyl abuse as an epidemic.
"The amount of people dying in this country from accidental overdoses is one every 19 minutes," he said.
Eyewitness News sat down with two addicts. Both were at Action Family Counseling for treatment once before. Duncan Kane said he overdosed the very first time he took the drug.
Though Caleb Allen's experience was a bit different, he admitted his dealer didn't hold back.
"He told me, 'Hey, you know, this has fentanyl in it. It's really good stuff, its cheap, be careful with it...'" Allen said.
Quashen said the fentanyl that "kitchen chemists" are cooking up can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
"The drug community is not a game, it's not regulated," Allen warned. "They don't care what they're giving to you."