Idaho State Police are seeing a spike in evidence waiting to be tested to confirm the presence of heroin and other opioids. With three labs across the state, an official with ISP says they’re hiring and shifting staff to accommodate the influx of tests.
“Backlog” isn’t the word ISP Forensics Lab Director Matthew Gamette would use to describe the challenge facing his seven technicians. He says what’s happening is a slowdown in turnaround time, which averages about 31 days.
ISP’s Meridian lab saw over 350 cases in August and only had two analysts to work through them. While an analyst can process about 90 cases a month, Gamette says the number “is what we strategically plan for.”
“We are using a combination of overtime and weekend work and other things for those analysts to produce more than those 90 cases,” Gamette says.
Analysts are currently working about 160 cases a month. According to Gamette, ISP’s labs statewide saw a 956 percent increase in heroin-related cases between 2011 and 2016. Toxicology specialists in the department saw a 15 percent rise in opiate cases last year. The dramatic numbers have prompted big changes.
“We went from one toxicologist to now we have five toxicologists statewide,” he says. “We’ve addressed all kinds of things with our methods. We process plates now instead of single sample tubes.”
Because ISP’s caseload is shared across the state, Gamette says it allows for a comprehensive strategy.
“We can shift resources from one lab to another; if we have some labs that have fewer cases being submitted or they have more ability to work overtime, we will shift those cases to treat those as a lab system,” says Gamette.
As ISP does the vast majority of analysis for state, county and local authorities, the lab systems director says outsourcing the work would be cost prohibitive and a burden on other agencies.
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