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Opioid crisis creates backlog of cases at BCI, police waiting for results to file charges

Posted at 6:42 AM, Dec 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-06 15:24:03-05

The opioid crisis is creating a backlog at Ohio crime labs, and in some cases putting police officers in holding patterns for months as they wait to file charges against drug suspects.

The delays further underscore a drug threat labeled as "unprecedented" by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

Medina police have been waiting for four months for BCI test results after a man overdosed while driving and suspected heroin was found in the car.

On Aug. 5, a 31-year-old Medina resident knocked over a street sign and crashed into a tree on Tanglewood Drive. Officers smashed open the passenger side window, dragged the unconscious man out of the vehicle and gave him two doses of Naloxone to revive him. The dramatic incident was captured by police body cameras.

The man was charged with driving under suspension.

Police also want to file a felony drug possession against him, but before moving forward, the department is waiting for BCI to officially identify the brown, powdery substance that was found in the car and sent to the lab in Richfield for testing.

"There is frustration that there is a delay," said Medina Police Chief Edward Kinney. "Again, we understand that BCI is overwhelmed, but just the simple fact of the epidemic taxing the system is frustrating."

Ohio BCI Superintendent Tom Stickrath said he understands the concerns from law enforcement partners.

"I see the effect on our lab as kind of a collateral consequence of the opioid crisis," Stickrath said. "I understand sometimes the frustration of waiting to get a case either to grand jury or to make that decision on jail or no jail, so we're doing everything we can to get those numbers back to where it's acceptable for me."

Through 2017 so far, BCI labs have tested 14,019 opioid submissions from law enforcement, the highest number in Ohio's history. Last year, labs received 13,705 submissions.

There has been a 380 percent increase in confirmed carfentanil cases compared to 2016. Additionally, there has been a 46 percent spike in fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds.

Further complicating lab processing time is the fact that many of the compounds are becoming increasingly more complex and dangerous.

"Some of these substances have not been seen before. It's almost like you're back in the chemistry book," Stickrath said.

To address the backlog issue, BCI has hired six new chemists at an approximate cost of $600,000 and is outsourcing some of the testing to two labs in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. Those contracts are estimated at $1.3 million.

As for the Medina case from over the summer, BCI believes it will have results for police sometime this month.

"We have to play the wait-and-see game and once we get them, we'll file the appropriate charges," Kinney said.