LONDON, Ohio (WCMH) – The number of drug cases the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) crime lab investigates has reached a record high and the opiate epidemic is to blame.
“It’s a real concern. When you have these drug cases, you want to get them prosecuted and so we don’t want to hold up the testing of the drugs,” said BCI Superintendent Tom Stickrath.
He said about six years ago, they investigated around 14,000 drug cases a year. So far this year, that figure has doubled to 28,000.
“We’re, I’d say, a collateral consequence of the opiate tragedy in Ohio, the crisis,” he said. “Much like a coroner’s offices with autopsies, or law enforcement, or even hospital emergency rooms. We’re feeling that same thing in our crime lab with the number of drug cases coming through our labs.”
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He said to help with the increasing number of cases, they’re outsourcing some to coroner’s labs in Hamilton and Cuyahoga counties.
“We asked for $2 million for BCI and $1.5 million for our colleagues in the smaller labs across Ohio, so that’s what the legislature provided us,” Stickrath said.
But it’s not just the enormous number of drugs they have to test that’s slowing down the crime lab. Stickrath said it’s also the complexity of drug mixtures coming in.
“It used to be, I’d walk in the lab, it was maybe black tar heroin, or cocaine, or crack, oxycodone tablets. Now, you walk in the lab and there’s these mixtures, you don’t know what might be in it,” he said. “As we saw these numbers rise and the complexity rise, I talked with the attorney general and first, we added some staff and some equipment and kept trying to increase our efficiency but finally we said, ‘Let’s outsource some of these. Let’s see what some of our colleagues might be able to do.’”
Powerful opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil pose an overdose risk to anyone who comes in contact with them. So scientists also had to change the way they protect themselves in the lab.
“We changed the way we test these drugs, actually. We’ve gone to what we call a two-instrument test, which is more time-consuming,” Stickrath said. “Plus, all the safety now. You’re putting on all those gloves and the mask, taking such caution with these mixtures. It certainly adds time to the testing.”