Narcotics analyzer helps keep officers safe

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department has received permission from county officials to purchase a device that allows police investigators to analyze suspected narcotics without opening up its packaging.

The acquisition of a TruNarc Handheld Narcotics Analyzer, which scans for more than 370 suspected illicit substances in a single test, is necessary for the safety of law enforcement officers, Sgt. Jim Stevens told the Bartholomew County commissioners last week.

Recent confiscations of heroin that has been cut with fentanyl pose the greatest danger during analysis, Stevens said.

Fentanyl, a potent pain medicine administered through the skin, can cause severe breathing and cardiac problems — or even death to those who haven’t been prescribed the medicine, he said.

“There have been incidents across the country where officers have gone down (after skin exposure to fentanyl),” Stevens said. “It’s very dangerous.”

Concerns regarding such accidental exposure recently prompted the sheriff’s department to temporarily halt in-house drug testing, Stevens said. All evidence is now sent to laboratories, with Indiana State Police technicians doing most of the analysis, he said.

In December 2015, similar concerns prompted an end to a two-year-old program that allowed the public to drop off unwanted prescriptions in a box at the sheriff’s department’s lobby.

That decision was made after an employee was stuck with a needle that hadn’t been properly secured with a cap.

Five TruNarc Handheld Narcotics Analyzers have already been for use in different areas of the state by the Indiana State Police, Stevens said.

“While the ISP folks say these analyzers are not an end-all (to safety hazards), it is a very wonderful tool,” the sergeant said.

Although the narcotics analyzer will be kept at the sheriff’s department at all times, the device will be made available to the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team, consisting of sheriff’s department deputies and Columbus Police Department officers, said Capt. Dave Steinkoenig, commander of the department’s road division.

The sheriff’s department will attempt to tap into a variety of funding sources to purchase the $26,000 narcotics analyzer, Steinkoenig said.

After obtaining the commissioners’ blessing, the department applied for a $12,000 grant from the Columbus Regional Hospital Foundation to go toward the purchase.

The foundation, which provided initial funds to give deputies an opioid antidote to administer to heroin overdose victims, is expected to make a decision on the request no later than Feb. 14, Stevens said.

Additional funds are expected to be secured through grants obtained through Bartholomew County REMC and the Bartholomew County Substance Abuse Council, Stevens said.

Purchasing trauma kits

A $3,600 federal grant will be used to purchase 60 trauma kits for use by deputies in the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

The awarding of the money from the Department of Homeland Security was announced during last week’s meeting of the Bartholomew County Commissioners.

While small enough to fit within a pants pocket, the kits will give deputies the ability to administer immediate emergency treatment of both shotgun and knife wounds, said Capt. Dave Steinkoenig, commander of the department’s road division.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.