Originally Published: September 18, 2017 8:30 p.m.
PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Public Safety changed its policy on field-testing suspected narcotics due to fears that troopers could overdose from contact with the potent opioid fentanyl.
Because troopers were barred from conducting the field tests, the suspected drug samples are sent to the department’s laboratory for more rigorous testing in a safer environment, The Arizona Republic reported on Saturday.
The policy change subsequently caused a backlog of 2,191 controlled substance cases that still require testing, the newspaper found after reviewing data from August. The backlog consists of cases that have required testing for more than 30 days.
Officials said that if the delay is left unchecked, it could hinder prosecutors from filing formal criminal charges.
Because of the controlled substance testing backlog, the department’s backlog of all other pending tests has increased.
“We don’t have enough staff to do that sort of complete confirmation testing on everything that’s coming in the door,” said Beth Brady, the lab’s manager. “So we had to come up with another plan.”
To help get through the drug tests faster, the lab technicians began using the same field testing methods the troopers used. Brady said by doing this, it reduces the time the technicians spend on the tests, so it increases the number of tests they can do.
While there have been cases in other parts of the country of law enforcement officers harmed by contact with substances like fentanyl, no apparent cases have been reported in Arizona. Some medical professionals have questioned if such testing precautions like Arizona’s policy change are necessary.