Meth Hidden in a Gas Tank? Helping DEA as a Chemist
This is the fifth installment in a series of profiles featuring DEA special agents, diversion investigators, chemists, and more. Learn about the tough but fulfilling, fascinating, and vital work these DEA personnel do, as well as the many different ways to get involved in fighting drug misuse.
For our fifth profile, we will be interviewing Forensic Chemist Minh.
What motivated you to join the DEA?
Growing up in Saigon, Vietnam, I’ve seen and heard stories of people in my neighborhood who had died of a drug overdose, and caused lasting impacts to their family members and our society. Fortunately, my parents have always been good role models to me, which helped me realize how dangerous controlled substances are at a very young age. Moreover, when I was in college, I knew classmates had failed and dropped out of school due to controlled substance abuse. From those observations, I was determined to join law enforcement to help fight substance abuse. DEA is an ideal place for me and I have been a member since 2002.
What does an average day as a forensic chemist look like for you?
As a forensic chemist, I analyze seized drug evidence for potential presence of controlled substances, complete chemist worksheets, testify in court, and communicate with special agents and the prosecutors.
What has been your proudest moment as a forensic chemist thus far?
At some point in the past, I had an opportunity to assist the special agents in the field, where a vehicle was seized and agents were trying to find out what the “bad guy” was hiding inside. Nothing was found until we suggested siphoning the gasoline out of the tank, and found the presence of methamphetamine after air drying a portion of gasoline. That was a most enjoyable moment for all of us.
How can young people who wish to become a DEA forensic chemist best prepare themselves for the job?
As forensic chemists, we not only have an educational background in chemistry but are also willing to adapt to the constant changes in drug abuse trends in our society. From 2002 to the present, I have encountered controlled substances that have shifted from methamphetamine (ice) with low purity to MDMA, marijuana, oxycodone, high purity methamphetamine, and now fake M30 oxycodone with fentanyl. Moreover, we have to be ready to assist our special agents at clandestine laboratories when on-call and be expert witnesses at federal, state, and county trials when needed.
The synthetic opioid fentanyl – often mixed into other drugs – is now responsible for tens of thousands of American deaths per year. How has the fentanyl epidemic changed your job?
Since synthetic opioid fentanyl appeared roughly ten years ago, we are increasingly shifting our focus on fake oxycodone M30 analysis, which seemed to be yearly and is now down to a weekly basis. Also, we have more exhibits requested for rush analysis and our work backlog is getting bigger because of the impacts fentanyl is having on our society.
Aug. 1 Profile: Meet Special Agent Dave
Aug. 17 Profile: From Searching Tunnels to Undercover at a Rave...
Aug. 31 Profile: Fighting the Jalisco Cartel as an Intelligence Analyst
Sept. 14 Profile: Working With His Wife to Dismantle Drug-Peddling Prison Gang