The United States is facing a public health emergency with the current opioid epidemic, and our state is struggling with its own opioid crisis as well.
In the last year, our country lost 64,070 people to drug overdoses – a 21 percent increase over the previous year. What’s responsible for the dramatic increase?
While drug overdose deaths continue to go up year after year for heroin, other natural opioids, cocaine, and psychostimulants with abuse potential, one group of drugs has more than doubled its fatal overdose numbers – potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil.
Two years ago, synthetic opioids (excluding Methadone) were responsible for 9,945 overdose deaths. This past year, synthetic opioids claimed 20,145 lives – more lives than any other drug group or class over the same period.
Here in Minnesota, we’re seeing the exact same problem. By the middle of this year, our state had already exceeded the total number of fentanyl and carfentanil seizures that occurred in 2016.
These synthetic opioids are so deadly that police officers, drug labs, and medical examiners have to abide by new rules and precautions when it comes to dealing with them.
The New Synthetic Opioid Procedures for Minnesota Law Enforcement Officials
When at least a dozen fatal drug overdoses occurred here in the Twin Cities earlier this year, it was easy to say the cause was a single bad batch of opiates. The sheer number of deaths, however, prompted further investigation, and it was discovered that the deaths had been caused by carfentanil.
Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is “100 times stronger than fentanyl.” It was originally used as a painkiller for large animals. However, even in very small amounts, it can be deadly for humans.
For that reason alone, Minnesota law enforcement officials have had to adopt new synthetic opioid procedures for “collecting evidence, making drug arrests and testing samples at forensic laboratories” in order to protect everyone who might come into contact with the powerful drugs.
Some law enforcement agencies are no longer testing drug samples at crime scenes and are instead sending them directly to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). In some instances, scientists with the BCA are not even allowed to handle certain drug samples unless there’s another agent with naloxone present. Naloxone is an antidote used to block and reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
In June, the DEA came out with a briefing guide for first responders dealing with synthetic opioids, which includes recommendations for different levels of personal protection equipment as well as bringing in officials with proper hazardous material training.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is following these recommendations by “wearing extra equipment at certain crime scenes and making sure lab technicians don’t work alone.”
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office “stopped field testing narcotics” and “has instructed investigators to double-bag any powdered substances taken as evidence and to otherwise leave such drugs undisturbed if found at the scene of an overdose or a crime.”
How Do These New Synthetic Opioid Procedures Affect Me?
Drug charges are taken seriously in our state and can result in felony offenses or even federal charges depending on the nature of the crime. So if any procedural error is made throughout the course of the investigation, that mistake could then potentially be used to defend you against charges.
If you have been charged with a drug crime – regardless of whether it involves synthetic opioids or not – contact an experienced Minnesota drug crimes lawyer to start defending your charges and protecting your rights as soon as possible.
About the Author:\
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).