Bennington, Manchester Police halt field testing of suspected opioids

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BENNINGTON — Local police are no longer field testing suspected opioids, citing safety concerns.

"We're at a point now where some of the stuff we're finding is too dangerous to field test," said Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette.

When police confiscate a suspected drug, they have the means to learn what it is either in the field or at a police station. All drugs they confiscate are ultimately sent to the Vermont Forensics Lab, said Doucette, whether they are field tested or not.

Right now, police have access to basic safety equipment; Rubber gloves, eyeglasses, and face masks. Lab technicians upstate have better safety gear, equipment, and training, he said. He doesn't consider what local officers have to be enough, given some of the substances being found by police.

In recent months, some batches of heroin found by police have been laced with Fentanyl, a potent opioid that's been blamed for a rise in overdoses and related deaths.

Doucette cited news reports about police confiscating elephant tranquilizers.

Heroin, he said, is often found as a brown powder inside small baggies. He said police can be exposed to it if they're not careful, getting it in their eye or in some cases absorbed through their skin.

There have been no incidents locally, but at the Bennington Police Station there are several doses of Naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, in case an officer is exposed.

Manchester Police Chief Michael Hall said that he, too, has instructed his officers to stop field testing suspected opioids. Over the summer the Department of Justice sent out an email to law enforcement agencies advising them to halt field testing over safety concerns.

Hall said he doesn't feel much is lost by not field testing suspected drugs.

Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage said the lack of field testing likely won't cause many issues for the courts.

When police make an arrest, they file an affidavit of probable cause with the State's Attorney's Office, which then uses the information to file the appropriate charges with the court. The affidavit and charges are looked over by a judge who determines if the case goes forward.

Marthage said that police are trained to recognize drugs based on their outward characteristics. So long as they note their training and what they see, the lack of field tests likely won't present any legal issues. The situation is similar to when police process a person for suspected driving under the influence when said person declines to take a field sobriety test or offer their blood or breath for testing.

Last week, VTDigger reported that police in Colchester have suspended the field testing of powdered or crystalline substances, citing safety concerns. The department made the call after a recommendation from the Department of Justice. State Police and Burlington Police still field test in some cases, but have altered their policies to take far greater precautions when they do.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115


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