The growing prevalence of fentanyl is prompting some law enforcement agencies to change the way they handle possible drug cases. Most recently, Oregon State Police have decided to stop conducting field tests. The change is a response to rising concerns about police safety.
No More Field Tests
Oregon Police recently announced the new change. Previously, field drug tests for suspected illegal drugs were a common practice among cops in the state.
When police encountered what they suspected to be an illegal drug, the used a small and quick field test kit. Officers would place a small amount of the suspected drug into a hand-sized pouch. They would then add a chemical that changes color based on the composition of the substance.
These field tests could be used quickly on the spot to determine if a suspicious substance was really an illegal drug or not. But now, police in Oregon will no longer conduct field tests. Instead, they will rely on state drug testing labs to come up with results.
Concerns Over Fentanyl
The change comes as a direct response to the rising number of encounters police now has with fentanyl. The drug is a powerful opioid roughly 200 times more potent than morphine and can quickly turn fatal.
Fentanyl is becoming more and more common. Local Oregon media reported that three years ago, Oregon officials had only two fentanyl cases. That number has since spiked, and last year, the state saw a record-high 45 fentanyl cases.
Similarly, there was only one fentanyl death in Oregon two years ago. But last year, there were 58 fentanyl deaths in the state.
The main concern among law enforcement is accidentally ingesting the powerful drug while handling it during a field test. So far, there have not been any officers in Oregon who have been harmed as a result of dealing with the drug.
But there have been a handful of such incidents elsewhere in the country. One officer in Ohio accidentally came into contact with fentanyl after a powder form of the drug got on his uniform. He was treated for an overdose.
Officials hope that eliminating field drug tests will minimize the risk of something like this happening to cops in Oregon.
Final Hit: Oregon Police Stop Drug Field Tests Because of Fentanyl Exposure
Many expect the change to have a direct impact on how drug laws are enforced across the board. For starters, officials and lawyers in Oregon said that field tests were often used as key pieces of evidence against people suspected of possessing drugs.
“What the [field] test did was add an extra layer of scientific veneer to the rest of what the arresting officer had to say,” John Robb, a criminal defense lawyer in Portland, told local media.
He also said that cops frequently used field tests to leverage plea deals. “I have had dozens and dozens of clients plead guilty based on just that,” he said.
Now, without field tests, law enforcement in Oregon will rely entirely on state drug testing labs. And those labs are already backlogged. State sources report that labs are already backed up with around 600 drug cases. On average, it takes state labs around 100 days to complete tests and obtain results.
Eliminating field tests could add to state labs’ backlog, and could slow the entire process of enforcing drug laws and prosecuting suspected drug offenders.