Phoenix police crime lab uses new technology to detect traces of fentanyl in blood

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — New technology from the Phoenix Police Department’s crime lab can now detect traces of fentanyl in a person’s blood, which was not possible until now.

The reason it’s so game-changing – crimes that go under the radar because of old technology are now coming to light. “We’re looking at concentrations in parts per billion,” said Amanda Gallegos, toxicology supervisor at the crime lab.

Gallegos and the LC Triple Quad machine focus on fentanyl. “It’s almost 100 times more potent than morphine,” she said.

So far, this potency has been the problem, in some cases, affecting lawsuits. “You could potentially have an individual who has drugs in their system that you’re not able to detect,” Gallegos said.

Because fentanyl is so powerful and often deadly, those who survive taking it only have a tiny amount in their system. The LC Triple Quad machine could not detect these traces until recent months due to innovations and updates. So before, drivers suspected of being under the influence could get away with it without any drug being detected, even if they were on fentanyl.

This new technology is now much stronger and more sensitive. “Currently the fentanyl method and the opioid method we use are 100 microliters,” Gallegos said, showing a tiny vial of liquid. Technology is not only used in impaired driving cases, but also in sexual assaults and even homicides to help investigators and prosecutors build a case.

Gallegos said the new ability to detect fentanyl comes at a crucial time. She said 30% of their toxicology drug cases now involve fentanyl. “30% is a huge increase from previous years where it was maybe 5% of our casework,” Gallegos said.

That drop of blood that goes into the machine can produce extremely fast results. “Runtime takes about 12 minutes,” Gallegos said. It is certainly very rewarding to be part of this.

Even though this machine can work almost instantly, their lab’s turnaround time to finalize and complete a full drug report is usually 5-6 weeks. Because they use the technology for these impaired driving and violent crime cases, they only use it with blood from living people and not anything post-mortem.

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