Opioid epidemic driving up NC crime lab costs

India Henry


Raleigh, N.C. (WNCN) — The opioid epidemic is taking a toll on how quickly the state can process drug cases.

There’s been a huge increase in a drug called fentanyl that’s not only drastically impacting the work at the state crime lab, it’s also dangerous for anyone who goes near it.

Fentanyl is killing more people in North Carolina than ever before.
“It is something we take very seriously because it is so deadly,” explained Attorney General Josh Stein.

It’s a painkiller that’s showing up in overdose cases, usually laced in heroin.

The state health department says the number of these deaths has skyrocketed more than 400 percent in two years.

“This stuff is so toxic, that only gram — the size of a grain of salt — can kill you,” Stein explained.

All drug testing is done at the state crime lab, and the number of cases just in the past six months has already outnumbered all of last year. Last year the lab tested 180 cases, this year they’ve already had more than 160.

But it’s not just case load. The drug is also changing how analysts have to work.

“When they get a heroin or fentanyl sample, you can’t have one person in the lab you have to have two people in the lab,” Stein said.

Fine particles of the drug can spread through the air and cause someone to accidentally overdose.

“There have been examples in North Carolina of law enforcement just moving evidence having overdose,” Stein said.

It’s a danger for anyone who comes in contact with it.

“They need gloves, they need face masks, they need to be wearing lab coats, there has to be naloxone on the table which is drug reversal in case we have an overdose,” Stein explained.

More work means more costs that we all pay for. But even worse is more deaths from what the state is calling an epidemic.

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