Forensics chemist explains dangerous makeup of deadly opioids

The Youngstown State grad said there are so many different drugs that are constantly changing, which makes her job and the jobs of law enforcement more difficult

Many more Massachusetts residents are dying from the synthetic opioid Fentanyl than heroin this year, and the drug is getting to users very easily.
(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A forensics chemist from Cuyahoga County broke down the science behind the opioid epidemic, explaining just how dangerous the drugs are.

Shaena Taylor, a Youngstown State graduate, was back on campus Monday to talk to college students about the heroin and fentanyls. Even some students from Westminster College came to listen.

She said Ohio is dangerously unique with its drug problem. There are so many different drugs that are constantly changing, making her job and the jobs of law enforcement more difficult.

“There really isn’t any research out there as to how potent these are,” Taylor said.

Her audience can see the effect drugs have, and it’s emotional.

“Even kids I grew up with who just had the brightest of futures, and watching them do these drugs and hearing about so many people getting taken off the streets,” said Westminster junior Stefan Roth.

“It happens to people our age and it happens so commonly with people that I could so easily relate, and going down a path like that makes me upset,” said Madison Ordonez, a junior at Westminster.

Drugs like cocaine and heroin have been at the top of the list for users for a long time. But Taylor said it’s the new drugs, like fentanyl and carfentanil, that are quickly rising to the top.

“The amount of heroin isn’t necessarily, it’s still our number three. But our fentanyls have jumped to our top ten.”

Taylor said she gets numerous samples of drugs — many of them combinations of fentanyls and carfentanils mixed together, which she said is causing a majority of the problems.

She and her staff work at least 7,200 cases a year. She’s watched the illegal drug market change — now, most opioids come from China.

“Chemists are out there in different countries just altering things a little bit and we don’t know how it’s going to affect your body,” Taylor said.

On top of working in Cuyahoga County, Taylor also works with the Border Patrol and post office. As it becomes easier to send and receive drugs online, more precautions are being taken.

“Just particles in the air can cause overdoses, so there’s a lot of safety concerns to everybody involved — from your first responders, to your investigators, to your pathologists, to all the people who could handle the drugs,” she said.

Taylor keeps naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, in her lab in case of an accidental overdose.

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