U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at Chicago O’Hare International Mail Facility are taking the detection of hazardous chemicals and drugs to another level. Since November, officers at the International Mail Facility have been using a hand-held device as a screening tool to analyze packages that may contain common drugs and industrial chemicals.

The Gemini™ uses analytical techniques to screen packages using either the Raman technique or an infrared technique. The Raman technique, named after Sir C.V. Raman, an Indian physicist, uses a laser to analyze a substance without an officer opening the package and possibly being exposed to something hazardous.

“We use the Gemini™ daily,” said CBP Officer Francis Byrne. “We analyze somewhere between 30 and 200 samples a day. Before we had it, we had to send everything to the lab, which could take a couple of weeks to identify. Now we can identify something immediately and make sure the substance doesn’t end up on the streets. It’s a great aid and keeps the officers safe.”

If the Raman technique is inconclusive, the officer can use the infrared technique. The main difference in these techniques is the officer has to open the package to test the substance. If the Gemini™ still can’t identify the substance, then the officer will send a sample to Chicago’s CBP lab.

“The Gemini™ is a great tool for the officers to have,” said CBP’s Chicago lab Branch Chief Neele Shepard. “It has a large database within the system, but if the system can’t identify the substance, they can send us a sample that we can run against our larger database.”

So far this year the Chicago International Mail Facility leads the nation with more than 9,800 narcotic seizures. These include cocaine, heroin, marijuana, steroids, designer drugs and fentanyl.

According to Drug Enforcement Agency’s nationwide alert, fentanyl is a Schedule II narcotic used as an analgesic and anesthetic. It is the most potent opioid available for use in medical treatment – 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is potentially lethal, even at very low levels. Ingestion of small doses as small as 0.25 mg can be fatal. Its euphoric effects are indistinguishable from morphine or heroin. From 2000 to 2016, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses. On average, according to the CDC, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.