DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — Thousands of people in the Miami Valley have died during the opioid epidemic. The death toll was so high in Dayton, it was called “the overdose capital of America.”

The fentanyl-laced pills and cocaine are lethal even to the touch for people not taking the drugs.

Dangerous. “They are so toxic, so deadly with small amounts,” says DEA Agent Steven Lucas.

The DEA says the opioid epidemic has never been more dangerous.

“Lethal mixtures,” says Lucas, “Powders dangerous to breathe in or simply touch.”

That creates a high-risk environment for law enforcement. Now, technology is helping.

A laser. Lucas says he can test a powder without ever opening the package, and it lists the complete breakdown of the ingredients inside.

Fighting Fentanyl

“It’ll tell us it’s cocaine and hydrochloride,” according to Lucas. “It’ll give a rough percentage. Sometimes it will even break it down if it has a cutting agent.” He adds, “The screen will tell us, ‘caution, this is a hazardous substance.'”

These initial “field tests” are just the first step. The drugs are sent to Chicago for complete lab work to confirm the initial testing. So far, according to Lucas, the laser results have been spot-on.

“We’ve gotten plenty of lab results, and it hasn’t missed yet.” He adds, “If it tells us it’s xylazine, and we get the lab results, it’s xylazine, and it hasn’t been wrong.”

The laser’s benefit is really about safety and time when investigating. It keeps law enforcement safe from potential lethal contact with the drug, and also gets an immediate result that, without the laser, could take a couple weeks.