A new drug known to cause psychotic disorders with a potential of abuse is on local law enforcement's radar.
The synthetic opioid U-4 is described as a research chemical by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA says it is not studied for human use, but was found in pill form during a pill seize in Ohio this March.
Nine people in Florida have died from using U-4. The most recent death was in Orange County.
With the threat of U-4 coming to Martin County's streets, Deputy Sheriff Ryabn Pfeifel is learning to identify synthetic opioids.
"Something that can look pretty benevolent can end up putting you in the hospital or worse," said Pfeifel.
Martin County Sheriff's deputies have seen the reactions synthetic opioids can cause. In August a 19-year-old who admitted to taking a drug jumped through a window and attacked a homeowner in Stuart. Martin County Sheriff William Snyder says deputies are dealing with cases of fentanyl and carfentanyl use, but U-4 would be new territory.
"We need to be prepared if we do see it. We're working on understanding the drug, the implications, what happens when they overdose. What we see so far in research is that it is euphoric," said Sheriff Snyder.
There is no rule book for responding to substance abuse related calls. U-4 can come in pill, powder, or spray form. Even with Florida's Attorney General outlawing U-4, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says it's difficult to stay one step ahead of the drug manufacturers.
"It's like a dog chasing it's tail and it's tough to finally get ahead of these guys. The best way to do it is through tough law enforcement and we're working that area and also to convince the Chinese government to crack down on their end," said Aronberg.
Aronberg says he is pushing for tougher penalties for anyone caught with a substantial amount of synthetic opiods when the next state legislation session begins. Right now someone caught with a supply of synthetic opioids can only be charged with possession or intent to sell. Aronberg wants to create a statute for drug trafficking synthetic opioids which would increase the charge to a second degree felony and add up to 10 more years to the prison sentence.