Why You Should Stop Field Testing Drugs Immediately!

Stop Field Testing Drugs!

You read that right. Field testing drugs can kill you. When a police officer comes across drugs in the field, they use their experience to determine what the substance is. Cops come across drugs so often, that it becomes second nature identifying what type of drug it is. After seizing the drug, they will test it using a chemical analysis in the field just to confirm their suspicions. But, times have changed. Field testing drugs has become much more deadly.

stop field testing drugs
From CDC

The Opiate  Epidemic

Opiate overdose deaths have been increasing at a phenomenal rate. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. In 2007, my narcotics crew and I saw a sudden switch where methamphetamine users were switching to pharmaceutical opiates. Most of the pills were coming from dirty doctors or doctors that were over prescribing opiate medication. We knew it was a matter of time before the pill addicts realized that heroin was cheaper.

They made that switch along with other addicts around the country. Many people started dying. But, America’s infatuation with heroin continued to rise. The addicts all wanted a more powerful drug and many narcs knew there were more powerful drugs that would cause mayhem.

A Warning From the DEA About Field Testing Drugs

Fentanyl was that more powerful drug. In the last year, many locales around the country have seen triple digit increases in the amount of fentanyl seized and a like number of overdoses that correlate to that rising number of seizures. In June of this year, the DEA sent out an alert to all police agencies in the US asking them to not field test drugs that they suspect is fentanyl.

You see, fentanyl is a dangerous drug. It is much more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is also transdermal. If you touch it, fentanyl can be absorbed through your skin and you can be in an overdose situation quickly. Just from processing evidence. There have been a few incidents where drug enforcers have been exposed to fentanyl (just see this video to see the experience of these two cops).

Fentanyl at the bottom of a purse. Doesn’t that look like cocaine or Methamphetamine?

The DEA understood that with the increasing fentanyl crisis, cops could be exposed to fentanyl just by field testing it. It could go airborne and you could inhale it or you could get it on your clothes or skin.  Some of the field tests have the chemicals in the pouches that you place the drugs into. Then you break those ampules and check to see if it is positive or not. How many of you have had those ampules break through the container and puncture your skin? What if that had fentanyl on it?

The DEA Warning Did Not Go Far Enough

I think, though, that the DEA warning was not strong enough. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an officer misidentify drugs in the field. How many times have you thought you recovered cocaine only to find out it was methamphetamine? Or vice-versa? This picture is of fentanyl recovered by a cop responding to a call. Doesn’t it look like cocaine? I’ve seen methamphetamine that looks like this. The same with Ketamine. None of those drugs are transdermal. This, however, is very deadly and it is just lying in a purse waiting for an accidental exposure.

The problem is, the DEA is asking you to not field test drugs that you think is fentanyl. But, that’s the reason why you are testing it… to determine what it is. Some officers have reported to me that some field tests have been testing positive for cocaine when it is, in reality, fentanyl. Do you see any problems here?

It comes down to this: if you recover drugs in the field, you should not be field testing them. Using the proper PPE, you should be packaging and sealing them right away. Our job is deadly enough without adding fentanyl into the mix. I have written extensively about fentanyl in the Briefing Room and have outlined how Fentanyl is being disguised as ordinary pharmaceuticals like Hydrocodone.

Crime Labs are in Danger Too

There are also some crime labs that are still not taking proper precautions when testing drugs in a secure environment. Cartfentanil is sweeping some parts of our country. Cartfentanil is a very potent fentanyl product used on large animals, like elephants. Exposure to less than one gram can be fatal. If a vet in a zoo uses this drug on an animal, they will more than likely be wearing a hazmat suit and a respirator. Do you really want to take a chance on that drug you just recovered and think is only coke? In addition to all of this, the cartels and unscrupulous drug dealers are using fentanyl as a cutter in heroin and cocaine (yes, in cocaine).

Our job is hazardous enough. Don’t take any more risks than you need to. If you seize a drug, even if you know it is not fentanyl, you should package it up without field testing and send it to the lab for analysis. With heroin and cocaine being cut with fentanyl, you need to limit your risk. I know some DA’s offices will not be happy, but is an officer’s life worth being able to write down on paper that it tested presumptive positive?

Author: Keith Graves
Keith is a retired Police Sergeant and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years. Keith was named as California’s Narcotics Officer of the Year and is a prior winner of MADD’s California Hero Award. He has years of experience as a Narcotics Detective and a Narcotics Unit Supervisor and is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292). Keith teaches both the DRE course and the Drug Abuse Recognition Course and has taught at the Police Academy. He has developed several drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association, California POST and California Colleges and currently consults POST on drug investigation procedures. Keith has held other assignments besides narcotics including Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and 20 years as a SWAT Team member and Sniper Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses around the world about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. He is recognized as an international drug expert and has testified as an expert in court proceedings on drug cases, homicide cases and rape prosecutions. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary's College of California and a MA in Criminal Justice. Keith is the Founder and President of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.

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