Seizures of deadly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil have soared in Minnesota, forcing law enforcement agencies to adopt new procedures for collecting evidence, making drug arrests, and testing samples at forensic labs, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The synthetics are so powerful that, in some cases, scientists at the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) have been told not to handle samples without an agent nearby to administer naloxone, an antidote, in case of accidental contact. Prosecutors are starting to pursue the first federal case in Minnesota involving distribution of carfentanil, a substance that killed at least a dozen people in the Twin Cities area this year. That investigation has confirmed that several deaths did not result from one “bad batch” of opiates and that carfentanil, 100 times stronger than fentanyl, was still in circulation months after the last of 12 confirmed area deaths.
The drugs are so pervasive that authorities have noted, with some surprise, examples of other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine being tainted with synthetic opioids. “It’s gotten to the point where we just feel like we’ve been hit with a tidal wave of cases,” said Chief Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker, whose lab sounded the alarm about the emergence of carfentanil in the spate of area deaths this spring. By midyear, BCA investigations involving fentanyl samples had blown past last year’s total, said Superintendent Drew Evans. Cases involving carfentanil also hit a record 25 by June, up from just four last year. This new reality has prompted dramatic efforts by agencies to protect first responders from substances that can kill even in trace amounts. Some state and local law enforcement agencies have decided to stop testing suspected drug samples at crime scenes, opting to send evidence straight to the BCA.