Fentanyl-detecting laser could save lives, help officers

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Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin that was once used to treat terminally ill cancer patients. But drug dealers have found a more sinister use.

Back in July, a 10-year-old Miami boy died just by touching Fentanyl and, in a recent training video, even drug enforcement agents are instructed to steer clear.

Alakai Defense Systems in Largo was originally founded to help soldiers in the field detect chemical explosives using lasers from a distance. Now they've been enlisted by law enforcement to fight a dangerous new war here in the Bay Area with a Fentanyl-detecting device.

The device was developed as part of the Fentanyl Detection Project -- a joint effort between the St. Petersburg Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.  

CEO Ed Dottery says, in the lab, the device has detected Fentanyl from a yard away, and hopefully that range will extend as they get more formulations and take more data.

"You take an innocent 10-year-old boy who dries himself off with a towel laced with Fentanyl and it kills him. If touching that towel killed him, an inch wouldn't have killed," Dottery explained.

Right now, the device isn't ready for street-level use by law enforcement. It's too big and bulky.

A handheld version is about 18 months away, but it cannot come soon enough as this deadly game of inches can mean the difference between life and death.