Huge 'Fentanyl' Bust in North Carolina Turns Out to Just Be Sugar

The six kilos of powder had a street value of about $8.

In mid-July, you could almost hear New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon polishing his badge before announcing the seizure of almost 13 pounds of fentanyl inside a home in Wilmington, North Carolina. “As as we can tell this is one of the largest seizures in the state,” he told WECT, beaming. According to McMahon, that much fentanyl had a street value of more than $2 million—or at least he thought it did.


The bust was the result of a months-long operation, which involved undercover detectives visiting the property and buying heroin on multiple occasions. On their final visit, they pulled out a search warrant and discovered enough fentanyl to produce “hundreds of thousands of bags for sale.” Two men and one woman were arrested and held on a lengthy list of charges.

Crime Scene Investigators tested the white powder when it was discovered, and their field tests all basically said “Yup, this is fentanyl.” According to WWAY, McMahon ordered the state lab to perform a rush analysis on the fentanyl and on some heroin taken from the residence. When the results came back, they were… not good. Those technicians reported that the substance wasn’t fentanyl, but they were also unable to tell McMahon what it was.

Charles Batts, one of the men who was arrested, wasn’t exactly pleading his innocence—he did allegedly possess and sell heroin and marijuana too—but he insists that the officers didn’t find fentanyl in his house. “Well when the people said they seen it, it was like a big container, I said, ‘Yeah, it’s flour. Cooking flour,’” he told WWAY. “And I don’t know where they got fentanyl from. And now it makes me look so like I’m the worst person in the world I guess cause that’s a lot of fentanyl. I couldn’t afford that much fentanyl.”

He could probably afford that much sugar, though. And, according to tests from an independent lab, that’s exactly what it was—and it comes with an estimated street value of $8. That enthusiastically celebrated drug bust recovered just under six kilos of “simple and complex carbohydrates,” and pure sugar isn’t a controlled substance. (AT LEAST NOT YET, JEFF SESSIONS.)

Scott Company Drug Testing, which manufactures the field tests used by the CSI officers, told WECT that “under certain circumstances,” sugar could trigger a false positive for fentanyl. “This is something we discovered after this case,” company president Ian Scott told the station. “We will be incorporating this into our training program to make sure this doesn't happen again.” Scott, along with the company’s legal counsel, helpfully suggested that the officers on the scene “use common sense and evaluate the totality of the circumstances” before taking a suspect into custody.

That’s basically what Charles Batts said, too: “If you can’t tell flour from a drug, something ain’t right.” And if you can’t tell flour from sugar, you probably shouldn't be cooking anything.