Channel 2 Investigates

Deadly counterfeit drugs coming to Georgia from China

ATLANTA — Drug overdose deaths are surging in metro Atlanta and across Georgia.

Some of the drugs causing the deaths are being smuggled into the United States from China, authorities say.

Channel 2's Tom Regan recent got an exclusive look at the intensive efforts to intercept the drugs at the Port of Savannah.

Federal officers at the Port of Savannah recently seized hundreds of pounds of cocaine worth millions of dollars.

Now they’re looking for counterfeit pills made to look like painkillers. In reality, they’re far more potent and potentially deadly.

The primary mission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is making sure what’s coming off the ships doesn’t pose a danger.

In recent weeks, customs officers in Miami seized packages containing synthetic drugs, including Ecstasy and illegal fentanyl manufactured overseas, primarily in China.

Fentanyl is a deadly opioid 50 times stronger than morphine. In pill form, it’s made to look like Oxycontin or other prescribed painkillers.

Chuck Miller’s son died after taking just two fentanyl pills.

“You never expect your son to die before you do,” Miller said. “There’s not an hour that goes by that I don’t think about it.”

Regan joined customs officers as they inspected containers on an incoming ship.

“We’re going after high-risk shipments,” Lisa Beth Brown said.

The goal is to check the seals and see if any have been tampered with.

“Sometimes, we’ll just open what we can open. You never know what you’re going to find,” Kelly Graham of Customs and Border Patrol said.

In addition to on-board inspections, officers scan containers with an X-ray machine.

“We’re basically looking for anomalies -- something that’s out of the norm,” Vontez Ferguson of Customs and Border Patrol said. “That could be drugs, or something that is not manifested correctly.”

If the X-ray detects something suspicious packed deep in the container, it’s taken to a warehouse to be unpacked.

In one container, agents didn’t find counterfeit drugs. But they found something else that poses a health danger to children: pens and packets containing high levels of lead.

“You can see the health and safety risk for children that might put them in their mouths or something like said,” said Sonna McWilliams of Customs and Border Patrol.

Brown, the area port director, said the effort to intercept synthetic drugs is gaining urgency as the death toll rises.

“What we are looking for is anything that could be a threat to our safety, security or health in the United States,” Brown said.

On a typical day, Customs and Border Protection seizes an estimated 10,000 pounds of narcotics at and between more than 300 ports of entry.