A chemist at ATK Thiokol who is accused of manufacturing a drug 1,500 times stronger than morphine has been charged in federal court.

Investigators say this is the first time they've discovered someone manufacturing this drug in the United States.

Thomas K. Highsmith, 42, was scheduled to appear today in federal court in Salt Lake City. He is charged with manufacturing a controlled substance and possession of a firearm by a restricted person.

The Ogden resident is accused of manufacturing the drug Etonitazene while working at ATK Thiokol. Previously, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the only other known Etonitazene labs were found in 1987 in Germany and in 1998 in Russia.

Etonitazene is an opiate described as a kind of synthetic morphine. The DEA describes it as 1,500 times stronger than morphine.

"You've got to have a fairly sophisticated chemistry background and facility to make it," DEA spokesman Dan Reuter said from the DEA's regional office in Colorado.

Highsmith was arrested following a joint investigation by the DEA and Box Elder Narcotics Strike Force. He manufactured the drug beginning on an unknown date and continuing through April 30, according to court documents. He was out on bail Monday pending today's court hearing.

Highsmith is accused of manufacturing the drug and converting it into a liquid form, then taking hits from a 12-ounce nasal spray bottle.

Investigators believe Highsmith was making the drug for his own use.

"Unless (the drug) is highly diluted, it's extremely dangerous," Reuter said.

Because the drug is difficult to make and so potent, Reuter doubts this latest discovery is the start of any type of trend.

An ATK Thiokol spokesman was not available for comment Monday afternoon.


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