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Indiana crime labs dealing with backlog due to increase in drug cases

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Thousands of drug cases are creating overwhelming work for scientists in crime labs. At the Indiana State Police (ISP) crime lab, they’re seeing some of the highest number of drug cases they’ve ever see and it’s creating a backlog.

When a local police agency confiscates drugs, they are sent to one of the state’s four labs. Then, scientists test the chemical compounds to determine what the drug is specifically.

In 2014, the ISP crime lab received 10,222 drug cases. In 2016, that number rose to 12,122. This year, investigators said the crime lab is on pace to analyze drugs for more than 14,000 cases.

The ISP crime labs are the only facilities that can test drugs. They handle rug analysis for 91 of the state’s 92 counties. Marion County and IMPD have their own crime lab.

“We provide these services, including controlled substance analysis to criminal justice agencies, at no cost to that agency,” explained the state’s forensic analysis director, Eric Lawrence.

Crime lab scientists test for nearly every type of drug, with marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin being the most common. Scientists have had to take their own precautions with the increase in cases involving fentanyl. Each scientist must carry Naloxone on them at all times. They also have to wear protective clothing and use special breathing tools.

There are just 20 scientists across the state working these cases. With the increase in cases and new types of drugs hitting the streets, the backlog is also higher than ever.

“The backlog for drug cases here for the state police in Indianapolis is about five months,” said chemistry supervisor, Mark Ahonen.

The backlog is spilling into other counties, like Delaware County, where prosecutors are having to delay drug trials.

“There’s been at least four or five different cases here in our county, drug dealing cases, that we’ve had to bump the trial date, because we’re waiting for results to get back,” said deputy drug prosecutor Zach Craig.

Craig said getting drug lab results back is crucial for convicting deals. He said a delay often means those dealers are back on the streets selling even more powerful narcotics.

“A lot of these cases that we’re dealing with now are dealers who we really don’t want to release them back out onto the street. We like to pursue the case as quickly as possible,” Craig said. “We’ve contacted the lab and just given them a heads up, ‘Hey. We’ve got 90 days. We need to get those results back.’ So in those cases, they’ve been able to expedite the process.”

ISP is part of a current capitol improvement process. They hope it will create three new labs across the state, which will allow them to hire additional scientists and help with the case load and backlog.