SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Fentanyl has been a growing problem in Florida and across the United States in recent years.

Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies have said they are seizing record amounts of the dangerous drug. Attorney General Ashley Moody made a visit to Tampa Bay last week where she warned about a new rainbow-colored version of the drug aimed at attracting children.

The DEA says fentanyl is deadly and just one kilogram of the substance has the potential to kill 500,000 people. For first responders and law enforcement officers, even exposure to the drug can be dangerous.

Trace Eye-D is a local company with a lab in Sarasota County. They’ve been around for six years, first working in the area of explosives detection. Back in 2020, the company started to put an emphasis on detecting dangerous drugs and has used what’s known as “color metrics” to create a new line of drug-detecting wipes.

“Fentanyl became a real forefront for me because, again, every time you turn around, someone is dying from it, and opioids aren’t any better. The idea with this is, can we save a life?” said lead engineer Barry Gorski, who developed the wipes.

How drug-detecting wipes work

The wipes look similar to alcohol wipes. They give the user a safe, fast and simple way to test for illegal substances.

When fentanyl, for example, is detected, the wipe turns magenta. For cocaine, it will turn light blue and for methamphetamine, dark blue.

Photo: WFLA

“We take nothing from the legacy technology that evolved. It has been very good and very effective, but there have been some drawbacks to it and one of those is the safety of the users,” said Trace Eye-D CEO Chris Baden. “Something that was pointed out to us by the Global Forensics Justice Center attached to the Florida International University was that there is a safety risk to first responders and law-enforcement particularly. They use these wet chemistry kits because that contain glass ampules, that when crushed when operating the product, can actually shear the vinyl bag and cut the officer.”

Trace Eye-D’s product doesn’t have that risk. It’s something a local law enforcement agency says is a big bonus when using the product in the field.

“The less we have to handle things, the better,” said Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler. “A lot of times, illegal narcotics – when there is fentanyl or something else, it can be absorbed through the skin, so it puts the first responder at risk. Our officers try to use rubber gloves when handling product, but the Trace Eye-D being a wipe — first of all, we can detect trace amounts of narcotics and the other thing is it is a little less handling of potentially hazardous materials for our officers.”

Palmetto PD has been participating in field testing of the products throughout this year and so far, have seen extremely promising results.

“The Trace Eye-D product has been entirely, 100% consistent with the established product we use. I think moving forward down the road, that we are going to be using the Trace Eye-D product. We continue to do the field testing now, but we are excited about it and I think I’m especially excited about it because it is actually a local company and a local CEO and a lot of his staff and his scientists are all local people,” said Chief Tyler.

“Palmetto was a great start. They were willing to cooperate and support us in a limited trial. We are very excited about getting this rolled out in our own backyard. Florida is our focus right now, with emphasis on the 12th Circuit,” said Baden.