Clandestine labs are nothing new in the East County. For years, local narcotics agents combated tiny meth-making operations, and more recently, honey-oil manufacturing.
But apparently a new substance has arrived on the amateur drug-making scene: fentanyl.
A 23-year-old man is facing charges for manufacturing the powerful narcotic after police say they discovered a makeshift drug lab inside his Thousand Oaks apartment last week.
Responding to a call June 14 from an apartment complex in the 100 block of W. Avenida de Los Arboles, deputies noticed glass vials filled with unknown liquids in an apartment unit, police said. The man inside the residence, Anthony Albert, was having a severe reaction to fentanyl exposure after his skin came into contact with the substance. He required immediate medical attention.
Officers observed a variety of chemistry equipment including glass beakers and distillation devices in the apartment.
The Ventura County Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit responded and confirmed the lab was manufacturing fentanyl—a synthetic opiate medication many times more potent than morphine or heroin.
As a precaution, nearby residents were advised to either evacuate or shelter in place during the investigation, according to a statement issued by police.
After authorities obtained a search warrant, police said, they discovered three gallons of chemical ingredients used to manufacture the drug. A loaded shotgun was also discovered.
Deputies arrested Albert on suspicion of illegally manufacturing a controlled substance. He’s since been released on $50,000 bail.
Because there was the potential for injury or exposure to first respondents and neighbors, police called the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force Clandestine Laboratory Team to assist in the cleanup, a statement said.
Using specialized chemical suits and breathing equipment, officers worked methodically to remove the potentially dangerous and unknown liquids, which were disposed of using a certified environmental destruction service, the statement said.
Detective Stephen Egnatchik with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said based on the investigation, he believes Albert was purchasing fentanyl powder and using his lab to break it down into smaller quantities. The detective said this was his first time responding to a lab like this but fentanyl is frequently being illegally shipped into the United States.
“Labs like this will become more common as the opioid crisis worsens and illegal labs manufacture and ship fentanyl into the United States,” he said. “Fentanyl is extremely dangerous because a small amount is deadly.”
Doctors use pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl to treat intense pain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, illicitly manufactured fentanyl has driven sharp increases in opiate-related deaths.
Drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016 and two-thirds of those deaths involved a prescription or illicit opioid. The CDC reported between 2015 and 2016, the overdose death rate from synthetic opioids other than methadone more than doubled due to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.
Albert is scheduled to appear in court on June 28.