PORTLAND, Ore. -- In a move to protect police and their families from exposure to dangerous drugs, Oregon State Police will no longer use traditional field tests. The OSP Superintendent, Travis Hampton, sent out an email notifying troopers in the field back in October.
For years, when troopers have come across a substance they think may be drugs, they’ve had to take a portion of the substance out of its container to test it. The problem is there are newer, more dangerous drugs that are becoming increasingly widespread. One example is fentanyl.
Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration have said fentanyl is about 50 times more potent than street-level heroin. It can be found in liquid, pill and powder form. It's the powder that is especially concerning to police. It could be inhaled and cause serious illness or death. In his email, Hampton called the drug a growing epidemic.
But not all field testing is being axed. OSP officials said in special circumstances field testing can be allowed if it’s necessary to avert the risk of death, serious physical injury or a substantial public health risk. The other option troopers have is to use a TruNarc device, which can test drugs without requiring they be removed from packaging.
Captain Mark Kruger with the Portland Police Bureau’s Drugs and Vice Division said many departments are moving in a similar direction. He said more fentanyl has been popping up in Portland, especially over the last year. At PPB, field testing won't be going away all together. Kruger said officers have been trained well on how to handle suspicious powder substances. No PPB officers have been harmed by accidental exposure to large amounts of fentanyl. However there is a push to transition to TruNarc devices.
“We want to add this additional tool so we can test other new drugs that are coming on the scene like fentanyl or other synthetic opioids that we're not currently able to test,” said Kruger.
He said right now, traditional testing methods can determine if a substance is heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, but there’s no way to field test for fentanyl. TruNarc has a library of compounds it tests for and new compounds can be added to the index.
“We've got the thing on order. OSP has it in the field right now. We've looked at theirs. We want to get this item in here in the next month or so, field test it, and then we're going to recommend probably to the police bureau that we buy more of them for the organization,” Kruger said.
At this point, Oregon State Police only have one TruNarc device. OSP is researching ways to purchase more.
Kruger said even if PPB buys the devices, there likely may be only one for each precinct. That’s because the devices aren't cheap. Kruger said they cost about $20,000 each.
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