Kentucky, well known for its first Saturday in May thoroughbred horse racing that dates back to 1875, presently has problems with illicit drugs that aren’t terribly different from those of other states. Currently, the primary drugs encountered in that state include Fentanyl, Heroin, Cocaine, and Methamphetamines, but according to the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratories, by far the biggest and fastest-growing problem is ‘Crystal Meth’ (methamphetamine).
Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant. ‘Crystal Meth’ is a form of the drug that resembles glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine, a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Other common names for methamphetamine include blue, crystal, ice, meth, and speed. The drug can be easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medications. Methamphetamine production also involves a number of other very dangerous chemicals.
The interception of Crystal Meth and other illegal drugs has become a severe policing problem worldwide. It is difficult for law enforcement personnel in the field to at least initially identify any particular substance as likely being a prohibited one. This can lead to false arrests or releasing suspects who are indeed carrying illegal drugs. While a properly equipped lab can make a definitive analysis, typical lab equipment does not lend itself to use by law enforcement personnel in the field because it is either too heavy, cumbersome, difficult to operate, or too expensive to distribute widely to large numbers of law enforcement personnel.
Many Kentucky law enforcement officers now use handheld narcotics analyzers to help identify suspected drugs and unknown substances. These analyzers utilize the well-established analytical technique called Raman spectroscopy – which can identify most key drugs of abuse as well as common cutting agents, precursors and emerging threats such as methamphetamine, fentanyl, numerous fentanyl compounds including carfentanil, common street fentanyl analogs, pharmaceutical variants as well as the fentanyl precursors, NPP and ANPP.
Using this handheld narcotics analysis technology, one can scan directly through plastic or glass for most samples to minimize contamination, reduce exposure and preserve evidence. An officer can scan a sample and receive the result within seconds.
Prior to the availability of the handheld analyzers, law enforcement in Kentucky utilized common wet-chemistry test kits to identify narcotics in the field. Relatively easy to use, these kits call for a series of dilutions, where officers must interpret color changes in order to correctly identify a substance. This is known as Colorimetric Analysis.
But colorimetric testing is not very specific; it is not always reliable, and only effective for a very narrow range of certain known drugs and not for other chemicals or substances such as newer synthetic drug compounds. More importantly, test results from the colorimetric do not always support probable cause in charging a drug suspect. Instead, all suspect samples collected from alleged offenders often must be transported considerable distances to a properly-equipped laboratory facility. Colorimetric test kits can often identify ‘classes’ of compounds rather than specific substances, so it is an imperfect field analysis method.
The Drug Section Supervisor with the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratories has reported that the Raman technique is highly sensitive, but it is likewise robust, and a much stronger and safer technique than the old Colorimetric system. He added that it is much faster and because of its high throughput capability, is very effective in the reduction of backlogs in the labs.
More than a dozen drug task force agencies across Kentucky are currently using the handheld narcotics analyzers. The devices have become popular with its users because of the ability to analyze and identify a multitude of drugs and other substances in the field in a matter of seconds and they do so with high accuracy and precision. In addition, the technology helps limit the officers’ exposure to potentially harmful substances.
The law enforcement officers are now better prepared to fight the crystal meth crisis right out of the gate.
For more information, read the Case Study: Raman Spectroscopy: Seeing drugs in a whole new light
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