One of the most dangerous drugs on the streets has made its way to the Upstate.
During a recent press conference, Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis said the county’s interstate interdiction team confiscated 1.2 pounds of “Gray Death” earlier this month.
“Gray Death” is a nickname for a high-potency drug cocktail comprised of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, and a synthetic opioid called U-47700. According to Lewis, it varies in consistency and looks like a concrete mix.
Lewis said the appearance of “Gray Death” is alarming, because a single dose can kill users. “You’re looking at a substance, if you take one time, you die,” Lewis said. “People aren’t even familiar with this yet. The word isn’t even out.”
“Gray Death” is thought to be a descendent of a gray pebble-like mixture of heroin that officials previously seized in San Diego, Chicago, and rural towns in Kentucky and Indiana.
The drug was most recently found in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio. Greenville County deputies located the mixture of deadly drugs after a K9 alerted on a bus that was pulled over for a moving violation.
Lewis said deputies are using a laser scanner to test the drug because accidental exposure through skin contact can be deadly.
Earlier this year, Greenville County deputies also stopped field testing powders and switched from latex gloves to nitrile gloves, because various drugs like fentanyl can be absorbed through latex, according to Sgt. C.J. Todd.
Todd added that deputies also wear paper masks during drug searches.
According to Lewis, the county is also working with local veterinarians to determine how to protect K-9 units from accidental exposure to “Gray Death.”
Earlier this year, Greenville County deputies started carrying Narcan to counter the often-deadly effects of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers. They are one of seven South Carolina law enforcement agencies trained to administer the antidote to opioid overdose victims.
They are also one of the only law enforcement agencies to use Narcan on their drug-sniffing dogs. Unfortunately, Narcan may not be effective against “Gray Death.”
For that reason, Greenville County deputies are avoiding overdoses through preparation, according to Sgt. Doug Wannemacher, who trains police dogs for the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office.
Before a K-9 unit can conduct a drug search, narcotics officers have to search the area for any powdery substances or drug paraphernalia that might be lying around. If the materials are in the area, deputies can’t deploy dogs, said Wannemacher.
In addition to “Gray Death,” Greenville County deputies seized more than 17 pounds of heroin, 220 grams of methamphetamine, and 3 ounces of marijuana during three other traffic stops earlier this month on Interstate 85 and 185.
“Growing up in Greenville, it is unfathomable to believe that you would find 17.5 pounds of heroin off the interstate. That is unheard of,” said Lewis. “These are numbers that shake the very foundation and the integrity of the community.”
The wholesale value of the drugs is estimated at more than $545,000, according to Lewis. Street value can be up to 70 percent higher. Lewis wouldn’t say whether or not the drugs were trafficked to Greenville.
In February, Lewis created the four-deputy interdiction team to seize illegal drugs, guns, stolen cars, and traveling fugitives on the county’s interstates.
The team has since seized more than $46,000 in cash, 70 pounds in illegal narcotics, more than a dozen guns, and two stolen cars. They’ve also arrested three fugitives and made 22 total arrests on the interstate, according to Lewis.
Lewis said he hopes to add more deputies to the team in the future.