Geyser of Opioid Chemicals Overburdening U.S. Forensics, Local Cops

At WVU, public safety and forensics address challenges U.S. crime labs and public operations confront in the range of synthetic opioid chemicals in drugs.

According to the Exponent Telegram, the Mon Metro Drug Task Force has followed the path of opioids and opioid chemicals found in Monongalia County, Virginia, to Detroit. The big city dealers have been arrested in Morgantown, sometimes in conjunction with Detroit arrests, said West Virginia University (WVU) Police Chief Bob Roberts.

WVU is also tracking the synthetic chemicals mixed with opioids in street drugs nationwide, and from the point of view of forensics, public health and public safety is facing a deluge of deadly chemical varieties that challenges preparedness and operations.

Image: WVU
Image: WVU

Roberts, who has been with his department for more than 30 years, according to WVU, said that his officers have encountered batches of heroin cut with deadly fentanyl derivatives. At the university's Academic Media Day, he compared the practice of mixing synthetic opioid chemicals to the production of methamphetamine, a drug often made illegally from toxic chemicals including lithium metals, hydrochloric acid and more.

His department, along with local police from Star City, Granville and the West Virginia State Police assist the Mon Metro Drug & Violent Crime Task Force, composed of Morgantown Police Department, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

At the WVU discussion, Chief Roberts said:

I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s going to have to be something national, involving the DEA and the FBI...We can’t address the big picture with local cops. It’s almost like taking on the mafia all over again.”
Opioid Chemicals Pummeling U.S. Forensics

WVU’s Forensic and Investigative Science Department Chair Suzanne Bell spoke about the evolving forensic landscape of the opioid epidemic, declared a national public health emergency. She indicated that the synthetic substances forensics are finding are shocking and coming at a high rate:

The mixtures we’re seeing on the streets are nuts — things that should never be mixed,” Bell said, comparing them to chemical weapons.

Bell said United States forensics teams are identifying new opioid chemicals -- compounds produced on an industrial scale -- every seven to 10 days.

"It’s affecting every aspect of the forensic community," she said.

The rate, volume and variations of toxic opioid chemicals is overwhelming U.S. forensics resources:

  • The rate of new synthetic opioid variations are rendering field testing kits useless.
  • Clean room labs are needed to ensure safe testing environments.
  • Lab findings are often inconclusive.
  • The number of deaths attributed to overdoses and accidents related to drug use is also overwhelming autopsy funding and body storage space at the local level.
  • The case load is growing, and difficult to manage.

At the current rate, Bell said, upwards of 600 chemists are needed in the nation’s crime labs. Some Ohio communities, she noted, rent tractor trailers to store bodies. Some New Hampshire municipalities are forced to forgo some autopsies, Bell said.

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