Above: Gary Gebhardt, a forensic scientist with the state police crime lab, analyzes confiscated street drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.
‘TREAT THE STUFF WITH RESPECT’
So far crime lab officials say they haven’t seen significant increases in requests for testing.
It’s too soon to say how the policy change will affect the workload, said Jon Dyer, who oversees the lab’s drug analysis unit in Portland, the largest of the state’s five crime labs.
The lab is already working through a backlog of about 600 drug cases, he said. Average turnaround time is about 100 days, though urgent cases tend to move more quickly through the system, he said.
An additional three analysts are expected to join the drug unit this year, bringing the total to six — staffing that Dyer expects can handle the uptick in demand.
“We are playing the wait-and-see game,” he said.
Meanwhile, police agencies in Oregon are still figuring out how to deal with keeping officers safe when they handle fentanyl.
In Silverton, the local police force initially followed state police and dropped field testing. Now the chief said his small Marion County agency is set to resume the tests, provided officers take additional precautions.
“We thought it was better to err on the side of caution, but now we are giving it a second thought,” said Chief Jeff Fossholm. “We are going to loosen it up a little bit to go back to field testing.”
Starting this month, Silverton officers will team up to perform the test to ensure that one person is on hand in case the other becomes exposed to the drug. Police will wear gloves and goggles when handling any drug they plan to test in the field.
In Portland, where for now the tests are still in use, officers are told to handle suspected fentanyl with care.
“We basically are telling officers, you know, if you find anything, a powder substance, make sure you don’t do anything to cause it go to go airborne,” Capt. Mark Kruger said.
“As long as you treat the stuff with respect,” said Kruger, “you can mitigate the threat.”
— Noelle Crombie