Drug caseload overwhelms Idaho State Police forensic lab

The state lab is overwhelmed.

MERIDIAN - The opioid epidemic gripping our country is of growing concern and as we have reported - Idaho is not immune.

The heroin epidemic is reaching startling heights.

Idaho State Police says the number of substances testing positive for heroin at the forensic services lab has increased by nearly a thousand percent over the last five years. It's created a staggering caseload that's starting to take a toll.

Matthew Gamette, the Director of the Forensic Services Lab at the Idaho State Police headquarters, says they're doing absolutely everything they can to stay on top of the flood of cases.

They have analysts working overtime to get through this caseload. However, the sheer volume is threatening to overwhelm their lab, which has only seven drug analysts for the entire state.

"Anything that we're moving forward with prosecution needs to be tested," said Major Bill Gardiner with the Idaho State Police said.

Last month alone, the Idaho State Police Forensic Services Lab handled 875 drug cases.

"We do work for county, local and state agencies all over Idaho," said Gamette.

With the current rate of heroin seizures still trending upwards, the lab is starting to get stretched thin.

"It is a struggle for us to have the personnel and the equipment and resources to be able to process through these increase number of cases," said Gamette.

The lab is staffed for each drug analyst to handle about 90 cases a month. Gamette says each analyst is currently working about 160 cases a month.

"With the numbers that we're seeing, it's just not possible to keep that at that level and so we're asking them to work overtime,” Gamette said. “We're asking them to work weekends and holidays and other things to try and keep up with the samples that are coming into the door."

Idaho State Police aims to have each sample tested and finished within 30 days; that way those suspects caught with drugs can continue on through the court process.

"Obviously, any more cases that come in, anymore increases that we have, will increase those turnaround times beyond 30 days," said Gamette.

Any new hires the forensic services lab makes has to go through the Idaho Legislature. So, in the meantime they're doing what they can to keep up with the heavy caseload.

"Trying to cross train our analysts to be able to provide that analysis. If we can free somebody up from another discipline or free part of their time up. We're doing everything we can to address those needs of the court," said Gamette.

Although, Idaho has seen a dramatic increase in the number of heroin cases -- nationwide, laboratories have seen a 6,000 percent increase in fentanyl cases.

That's something that hasn't hit Idaho, yet.

"We have resources nationally to look at those trends and how those trends are moving, and so we're obviously looking at those trends and seeing what will happen in Idaho," said Gamette.

State forensic labs all over the country may be seeing some help from the federal level.

Idaho Sens, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined with 30 other senators earlier this month asking the Department of Justice to step in and help provide resources to fight the opioid crisis stretching across America.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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