Highway Patrol ends field drug testing over fentanyl concerns

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JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri State Highway Patrol is no longer testing drugs it finds in the field. Instead, drugs will be sent off to a lab for testing.  

Captain John Hotz of MSHP said the patrol made the change with safety in mind.

“In order to protect our troopers from the potential lethal risks associated with exposure to fentanyl and fentanyl related components, the Patrol is no longer performing field tests,” Hotz said in a statement sent to KOMU 8 News.

The Centers for Disease Control describe fentanyl as a “synthetic opioid pain reliever,” but warns it is sold illegally because its effects mimic heroin. 

From 2014 to 2015 the CDC reports opioid deaths in Missouri, not including methadone, increased by 63.2 percent, which is on par with the national average.

“Really, it does not take much fentanyl, maybe the same as a pinch of salt. And, if it gets on your hands or on your skin it can get into your blood system and have possibly a fatal effect on a person,” said Detective Tom O’Sullivan of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.  

While the Highway Patrol has stopped testing drugs in the field, there is a new system for testing in place.   

“The Patrol has put protocols in place for limited rapid testing in a laboratory setting when necessary for prosecution or continuation of an investigation,” Hotz said.

The Boone County Sheriff’s Department tests drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine in the field, but takes precautions.

O’Sullivan said safety comes first for its deputies.  

“We’ve gone into home where there’s meth labs and that requires certain safety measures, different types of suits and masks and gloves,” O’Sullivan said. “If there’s ever any doubt about what a substance is we emphasize safety to all of our deputies and to take the necessary precaution.”

O’Sullivan said the Drug Enforcement Administration recommended in 2016 that local and state law enforcement to not field test for fentanyl because of the danger it can cause.