The Indianapolis Star from Indianapolis, Indiana on November 12, 2017 · A28
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The Indianapolis Star from Indianapolis, Indiana · A28

Indianapolis, Indiana
Issue Date:
Sunday, November 12, 2017
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28A ❚ SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2017 ❚ INDYSTAR.COM E1 checks and signatures; forensic biology, which handles DNA analysis; trace analysis, which will analyzes evidence such as paint chips, glass, and fibers. “Our mandate is to provide compre- hensive forensic services throughout the state of Indiana,” said Eric Law- rence, director of forensic analysis who oversees the scientists. “The role we serve in that is the role of a clearing- house.” The number of cases that the drug unit handles has grown exponentially in recent years, fueled in part by the opioid epidemic. In 2008, the Indiana State Police Laboratory Division saw 9,370 cases. By 2016, the number of cases grew to 12,122. This year, the total projected caseload will rise to 14,516 and the scien- tists who work in this, the lab’s main fa- cility, and three others around the state are struggling to keep up. “Right now we’re receiving more cases than we’re capable of processing. We need more analysts and to get more analysts we need more space,” Lawrence said. At 75,000 square feet and opened a decade ago, the Indianapolis lab repre- sents the most modern of the four facil- ities. The lab shares a building with the Indiana State Department of Health and the state’s Department of Toxicology, a measure that allows for cost-saving. While the Indianapolis lab is the only state police lab that does not need repairs and remodeling, Lawrence said, even it faces a backlog of cases. Current- ly the drug unit, one of six at the state lab, is working on a five-month backlog for its nonpriority cases, testing evidence seized in June, Griffin said. State troopers and law enforcement officials from around the state send their evidence to either Indianapolis or one of the other three sites in Fort Wayne, Evansville or Lowell. About 180 employees, about 100 of whom are scientists, staff the state police’s labora- tory division. About 50 to 60 scientists work in Indianapolis, which has a total staff of about 85, Lawrence said. Not only is the drug unit responsible for determining what controlled substances, if any, are in a sample, it must also carefully weigh and reweigh the evidence submitted to determine how much potential contraband was seized, Griffin said. Higher amounts lead to higher penalties. The opioid crisis has raised the stakes for these scientists higher than they have ever been, Lawrence said. The arrival of fentanyl and its cousins on the menu of abused drugs poses a new risk: A scientist could overdose by merely testing the drug. Law enforcement officials have heard reports of police officers overdosing when they unwittingly come into con- tact with fentanyl or dealers who die af- ter mixing fentanyl in a blender and cre- ating an aerosol mist that proves deadly. “I have 40 years in this business and this is the first drug that I have seen that has anything close to this lethality,” Lawrence said. “This is a game-chang- er.” To prevent such occurrences in the lab, new operating procedures are in place. Scientists have always worn gloves and lab coats, but must always carry Narcan, a drug that can reverse an overdose, with them and never work alone. Whenever the lab receives a large quantity of a material that could be fen- tanyl, the scientists will down full pro- tective gear as a precaution. The Marion County lab’s Medlar said last year he spent about $100,000 to purchase additional safety equipment for the scientists who work in that facil- ity. The number of cases involving fenta- nyl also have climbed steadily in recent years. In 2013, 15 submissions at the In- diana State Police lab tested positive for fentanyl. Last year that increased to 263 and this year that number is projected to reach 464, according to ISP data. Fentanyl has also become more prev- alent in Marion County. In 2015, the county lab handled 51 cases, the follow- ing year, 225. Halfway through this year, the lab has already seen 139 such cases. Still, it’s not opioids that top the state lab’s caseload. From 2010 to 2016, mari- juana has led the list. This year, meth- amphetamine, which has come in sec- ond since 2012, is now on top. In 2010 and 2011, heroin did not even make the list. Since 2014, it’s been number three. Hydrocodone, a commonly abused legally available opioid, made the list every year until 2015. In the past two years, as prescriptions have dramatical- ly declined, it has dropped off the list. New drugs regularly surface. More recently, the lab has seen an influx of tablets marked as a legally prescribed drug that look legitimate. Testing re- veals that the tablet does not contain the substance that it promises, Griffin said. Often those manufacturing illicit substances will take a known drug and tweak it slightly so that it does not ap- pear on the ever-evolving list of con- trolled substances. “We call it staying one carbon ahead of the law,” Lawrence said. But the practice can prove challeng- ing for the scientists tasked with deter- mining just what a submission con- tains. “We’re constantly playing catch-up with these new drugs,” Griffin said. Scientists rely on so-called stan- dards to compare samples they are test- ing with other known compositions. As the number of drugs have increased, so have the number of standards the labs must keep on file. Marion County’s Medler said he now has to spend more on purchasing these standards than ever before. Even then, the lab does not necessarily have a stan- dard for every substance it comes across. “Normally we can determine what substance is,” he said. “The other prob- lem with that is sometimes for court, there’s no standard yet, so we don’t have anything to compare it to.” At times, the mystery makes the sci- entist’s job that much more interesting, however. For Griffin, whose first job out of col- lege entailed quality assurance, the un- predictable nature of the work keeps her coming back to her job day after day. Said her colleague Mark Ahonen, chemistry section supervisor: “If you are a true scientist, you enjoy it, you en- joy the challenge of not knowing.” Call IndyStar reporter Shari Rudav- sky at (317) 444-6354. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook. IndyStar’s “State of Addiction: Con- fronting Indiana’s Opioid Crisis” series is made possible through the support of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, a nonprofit foundation working to ad- vance the vitality of Indianapolis and the well-being of its people. Labs Continued from Page 27A Sarah Neisinger works in the drug unit at the State of Indiana Forensic & Health Science Laboratories, which analyzes drug samples and other types of evidence for every Indiana county except Marion. PHOTOS BY KELLY WILKINSON / INDYSTAR Every analyst in the drug unit is required to keep an opioid overdose kit containing Narcan keeps in their lab coat pocket at the State of Indiana Forensic & Health Science Laboratories. kneeling was a form of protest against police brutality and social inequity. Other players have since joined — many to support Kaepernick and his message. The protests drew a response from Vice President Mike Pence, who made a very public exit from a Colts game in October, tweeting that he would not at- tend any event that disrespected U.S. soldiers, the American flag or the na- tional anthem. Other players began protesting in re- sponse to controversial statements made by Pres. Donald Trump in September about players who kneel. Indianapolis Colts safety Darius But- ler, whose father and brother served in the U.S. Army, told IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel that his decision to kneel ahead of the game against the Cleveland Browns this season wasn’t easy. But he did it, he said, because of the president’s comments. “It upset a lot of guys,” Butler told Doyel in an interview. “It kind of radi- calizes you, in a sense: ‘OK this line is being drawn in the sand. I need to do something to show exactly what side I’m on.’ ” There’s even been an organized effort this week to get fans to boycott Sunday’s NFL games — which occur a day after Veterans Day — to protest players kneeling during the national anthem. On social media, at least 20,000 people have said that they plan to take part in the boycott. Still, veterans attending the parade Saturday in Downtown Indianapolis said NFL players should stand for the national anthem. “We gave them the right to kneel. It’s their right, but I feel they chose the wrong time,” said Edward Henderson, who served in the Army. Producer Matthew VanTryon con- tributed to this story. Call IndyStar reporter Domenica Bongiovanni at (317) 444-7339. Follow her on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram . Call IndyStar reporter Ryan Martin at (317) 444-6294. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @ryanmartin Anthem Continued from Page 27A Tom Jordan watches two planes from the 122nd Fighter Wing at the Veterans Day Service at the Indiana War Memorial. PHOTOTS BY LORA OLIVE/FOR THE INDYSTAR Tammy Jacobs and Laurie Lavelle of the Daughters of the American Revolution attend the service. Veterans Service Organizations participate in the Veterans Day Parade on Saturday.

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