Thursday, August 27, 2015

What is it like to work at the DEA?

Does anyone know what it is like to work at the bench as a forensic chemist for the DEA? What kind of postings can you expect, etc? 

Here's a tiny bit of helpful background:
A good deal of a forensic chemist’s work is instrumental analysis, says Darrell Davis, laboratory director at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) South Central Laboratory in Dallas, Texas. Davis has been a forensic chemist for over 29 years with DEA, originally on the bench analyzing samples for the presence of controlled substances at the Southwest Laboratory in San Diego, and later managing the DEA lab in Dallas. 
Davis says that the DEA’s work is “mostly analytical [chemistry], both qualitative and quantitative. “We not only identify the controlled substance and its constituents … We also quantitate the controlled substance to let the courts and special agents know how pure the sample is. For example, we might analyze a kilogram of a cocaine-like substance and determine that 80% of that weight is pure cocaine.” 
In order to do these analyses, the chemists in Davis’ lab use mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy (IR), gas chromatography (GC), and liquid chromatography (LC). “We also use NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance] on the more complex types of samples.”
(The synthetic chemist in me wants to know - what's the other 20%?)

Anyway, anyone have any experience they'd like to share? 

14 comments:

  1. As a somewhat off-topic note, it seems that the NIST meth lab explosion was on the injured security person.... http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/web/2015/08/Former-Police-Officer-NIST-Pleads.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know that coca leaves contain alkaloids other than cocaine (benzoylecgonine, tropacaine, etc) so it's possible that other 20% is a mixture of those? I can't imagine the Columbian jungle work-up results in pure cocaine. One would have to assume they're not running massive columns?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think they use the chemist's friend, crystallization.

      Delete
    2. they also used potassium permanganate to oxidize away methylecgonine cinnamate until the US authorities pushed through an embargo. It make the crystallizations little more difficult but now the coke is no longer contaminated with pro-Pakinsonian manganese impurities

      Delete
  3. If it's for sale then that 20% would be various fillers like caffeine, glucose, mannitol. I think he's got it backwards according to this article, which estimates street purity as typically 20-30%.

    I imagine they're more focused on emphasizing how much is there, to impress juries et al.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 80% is part of the advertising.
      "To be truly effective, a good narcotics agent must know and love narcotics. In fact, a good narcotics agent should have narcotics in his blood."
      "To protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf."
      - Alonzo Harris "Training Day" (2001).

      Delete
  4. A lot of cocaine is cut with all sorts of crap. Baking soda, dish detergent, salt, anything white and dry. 80% would actually be an unusually high number from what I understand.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Working for the DEA would give you a chance to say "We got garbage." for samples that contain no cocaine as in the Smuggler's Blues video ( https://vimeo.com/58719183 @ 4:47).

    A list of impurities found in cocaine in the UK is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8040690.stm

    ReplyDelete
  6. if I was a devious druglord, I would add a small amount of fluorescein when cutting my coke for street use. You would identify your frequent customers in a dance club just by their snouts (shining bright under the black light)...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You sir are truly devious. But then you must explain to your customers why your coke is green...

      Delete
    2. ...and so would local law enforcement, game over.

      Delete
    3. it is perfectly legal to be high as a kite unless you drive, fly or operate heavy machinery. It is illegal to possess but the moment the coke is through your snout you are not breaking law anymore, (someone just gave to you for free but you can't remember who).

      Delete
    4. Easy enough to backtrack the supply chain with such obvious customers.

      Delete
  7. A good portion of the cocaine supply these days is cut with levamisole.

    Anonymous above is correct though. The DEA isn't too concerned with cutting agents too much as most cutting agents are illegal. DEA only cares about illegal drugs/controlled substances, etc. You know their mantra of drugs are bad and must be made illegal at all costs. ;)

    ReplyDelete