People started wearing gloves and protective goggles. And laboratories limited access to areas for DNA testing.
The opioid crisis and the dangerous drugs being seen now are
having a similar impact on the controlled substances discipline.
So while James has focused on his section and his people, I have
thought more broadly about the entire lab and all the staff.
Together with James and the expertise of his analysts, we determined how and where to limit access to the controlled substances
Just a few weeks ago, analysts from other sections could pass
through the controlled substances lab freely.
That is no longer the case.
Red tape marks the area at the entrance where folks who don’t
belong to the section have to wait until someone from the lab
grants them access, assists them with putting on appropriate PPE
and can escort them through the area. Entrance to the area is now
on a “must enter” basis.
If work is being performed on a substance that remains unknown, analysts will close it up until the visitors have left.
And we have distributed Narcan to other sections that might
come in contact with fentanyl, such as latent print examiners and
crime scene investigators.
We have shared the dangers of handling unknown substances
with local law enforcement and prosecutors, making clear that
the only protection we can truly give to first responders is to stop
them from opening the packaging to begin with. There is no way
to look at a substance and know just how harmful it might be.
As a result, Houston has stopped all field testing of drugs, and
the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is allowing charges
based on numerous factors, including experience and appearance,
until lab confirmation is available.
The Houston Police Department has distributed Narcan to all
its narcotics officers and is seeking funding to provide the antidote
to all patrol officers.
To me, the next step is to treat carfentanil as a “biohazardous
waste” although that is not a requirement under federal guidelines.
Doing so, however, will provide a safer path for the handling
and destruction of the evidence. It will require us to double bag
the substances and label them as biohazards.
Once again, this is no longer to protect the evidence.
It’s all about the people. This is now truly personal protective
STEPS TAKEN IN HFSC’S CONTROLLED
1. Limited access into the CS section; PPE required for
all staff and visitors.
2. PPE requirements based on activity within the section
and exposure to case samples
a. Staff and visitors check with section personnel
before proceeding into the section
b. Casework may be limited or cease if there are
non-analytical personnel in the area
c. PPE requirements
i. Non casework– lab coat and closed toe shoes
ii. Handling outer evidence containers– lab coat,
closed toe shoes, and gloves
iii. Active casework (including observation)- lab coat,
closed toe shoes, gloves, safety eyewear, and
3. Nitrile gloves recommended over latex gloves to minimize absorption.
4. Long cuff gloves are available for use when working
with suspected fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives.
5. Clean hands with soap and water, hand sanitizer is
NOT recommended as it may increase the change of
absorption through the skin
6. Recommended masks
a. For routine use- Aura 9210+ N95 Particulate Respi-
b. For vapors and particulates– 5000 Series Dispos-
able Respirators, 3M (supplier 51P71, 52P71, and
53P71 for sm, med, and lg sizes)
c. For high risk– 8233 N100 Respirator, 3M
7. Closeable containers have been provided for analysts
to use when carrying samples outside of the work
8. Biohazard containers have been provided in work
areas for the disposal of analytical waste or items that
come in contact with case samples.
9. Establishment of a “hot zone” within the section with
direct access to vent hoods for processing suspected
10. Analysts notify sectional staff including the section
manager when processing suspected fentanyl samples.
11. Evidence confirmed to contain fentanyl is repackaged
and labeled as “hazardous material” before returning
to the submitting agency.
12. Section staff have received training in how to recognize a potential exposure and how to administer first
aid, including calling 911 and administering Narcan. An
instructional video from UT Austin College of Pharmacy is available.
13. A total of six nasal-administered Narcan doses are
available in multiple stations throughout the section.