FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --Any time the US mail is used to commit a crime federal investigators get involved.
"This is some methamphetamine that I've been working on," forensic chemist Kimberlie Ross said.
Ross works at the National Forensics Lab for the US Postal Inspection Services. Her job is to test and verify drugs captured in the us mail stream. The job has become increasingly challenging.
"We're used to the old hats -- the cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin - those have been scheduled for many years," she explained. "But the new drugs, like the synthetics."
Synthetic drugs are at the heart of a new drug war. The chemically laced substances mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
Synthetics are extremely dangerous because buyers don't know what chemicals they are ingesting.
"We refer to them as 'street' chemists," Ross said.
Available online and sent via us mail from other countries officials are in a constant struggle to stay a step ahead.
"They just change the structure of the cathinone legitimate drug into different structures. And, the interesting thing is they can keep changing it, and changing, it," Ross explained.
This struggle is crucial as law enforcement works to apprehend, prosecute and convict criminals.
An inspector turned in 5,000 vials of a synthetic cannabinoid. When I analyzed it - it was not illegal - it was legal. About 2 months after he got my report and I had sent the evidence back - it became controlled - schedule one - which is the most severe controlled drugs. So, this is the type of thing we're seeing every day.
There is a new machine called an NMR spectrometer that helps chemists identify the components of the drugs quickly and more efficiently.
To help law enforcement keep up with these ever-changing drugs, lawmakers are getting involved - hoping to help overhaul drug laws that have been on the books for decades.