TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucked away from the drug busts and seizures on the streets of southern Arizona, the Tucson Police Department Crime Lab has increased its safety measures to protect against a deadly substance, Fentanyl.
The chemical considered to be 50-100 times more potent than heroin is not new, but its prevalence in the southwest is.
Forensic chemist Deborah Merritt said she had only seen it once in the first five years of her career at the crime lab. She said they've had six or seven in the last six months.
"Fentanyl and it's analogues are extremely dangerous," she said. "And they are scary."
So scary that the crime lab team has advised officers in the field to hold off testing any unknown powder or pills.
Merritt and her fellow forensic chemist Megan Green were used to donning their lab coats, latex gloves and surgical mask to test any substance that entered their work space.
As Fentanyl kept creeping into their work, they added to their protection.
Testing for any substance that is suspected to contain the chemical calls for:
- A respirator instead of a common mask to protect against inhaling Fentanyl
- An extra set of gloves to protect the skin if/when the top pair is removed
- Another chemist nearby with Narcan/naloxone in case of an accidental overdose
"Two years ago, I would come to work and I wouldn't have to worry about having a lab buddy with me when I analyze my items," Merritt said.
She trusts her life with Green, who said the same about Merritt.
Their job has an added level of danger these days, but the safety has increased as well. There hasn't been a single accidental dosing or overdosing of Fentanyl in the Tucson Police Department.
"So far no close calls, no issues," said Merritt. "We've been really lucky, but not just lucky, we've been safe."