HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Fears about accidental overdoses from fentanyl have prompted police officers across Dauphin County, PA to halt testing of all drugs they confiscate from suspects.
Instead, the substances will go straight to the Pennsylvania State Police lab for testing.
The new policy ends a longstanding practice of officers using field test kits on suspected controlled substances to preliminarily identify them.
The disposable tests use chemicals that interact with known active ingredients in various controlled substances. They indicate positive results by turning bright colors: Green for heroin, for example, and purple for marijuana.
Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico advised law enforcement agency leaders throughout the county recently that the danger to officers while handling suspected drugs now outweighed any potential evidentiary value from the tests.
The biggest concern is that officers could accidentally inhale the powerful drug or get it in their eyes or mouth.
A veterinarian, for example, who was splashed in the eyes and mouth with the contents of a dart containing 1.5 mg of carfentanil became drowsy within two minutes and required an antidote to revive, according to a recent position paper by medical professionals about the dangers of fentanyl and related substances for emergency responders.
A township in the Pittsburgh area (Upper Burrell) and cities including Houston, Orlando and others also have stopped using the tests as well, which have raised questions separately about false positives.
County judges and magisterial district judges are on board with the new policy Marsico said, which will now focus on officers testifying at preliminary hearings about substances using their training and experience.
That's because of the high potency and unpredictability of fentanyl and related substances, which are 100 to 100,000 times more potent than morphine depending on the substance.
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