The Missouri State Highway Patrol is no longer field testing for illegal substances during police raids and traffic stops, citing concerns about exposing troopers to fentanyl and other dangerous narcotics.
The Hannibal Courier-Post reports the patrol informed prosecutors of the change last year and the policy took effect this month.
Field testing provides immediate evidence that prosecutors can use as probable cause to file charges. Now, material is sent straight to a lab, but those results can take several weeks. Some prosecutors worry that without immediate testing, they'll have to delay filing charges against drug suspects.
The patrol "has put protocols in place for limited rapid testing in a laboratory setting when necessary for prosecution or continuation of an investigation," patrol spokesman John Hotz told the Courier-Post.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate painkiller that's dangerous to the touch or even if it becomes airborne. Some officers across the country have become ill handling illegally obtained raw fentanyl powder that frequently comes from labs in Mexico. It is often sold as heroin, but is far more dangerous to drug abusers. It also is often mixed with heroin and other drugs to create a more powerful high for the user.
The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a 2016 memo warning law enforcement to avoid field testing material that might contain fentanyl.
Marion County prosecutor David Clayton said the lack of a field test "will lead to a delay of six to eight months to even file charges — months of delay where a dealer could be locked up, months of delay that addicts won't be compelled to seek treatment, months of delay in utilizing confidential informants successfully and so on."
Talley Kendrick, prosecutor in Monroe County, said law enforcement "will have to find ways to balance that risk against the serious risk posed to the community by a catch-and-release policy for serious street drugs like methamphetamine and heroin. That is what will happen if we are forced to wait months for lab results before we can charge suspects."
While the field test provides probable cause for charges to be filed, the actual trial of the suspect uses lab results. Those cases often involve testimony from a patrol lab specialist.